When it comes to sports nutrition, make sure to consume a well balanced diet of protein, carbohydrate and fat. This diet would include fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains and dairy (if able). During short to moderate exercise, our muscles’ energy comes mostly from carbohydrates; during long exercise, our energy comes from fat; and protein is used to repair muscles after exercise.
Fueling properly when starting a workout is important to ensure you’ll have the energy to finish strong. Ideally, large meals would be consumed about 3-4 hours before exercise. This larger meal should contain a good balance of carbohydrate and protein. Limiting fat, fiber and dairy may ensure optimal digestion, especially if you are sensitive to lactose. Some examples of healthy pre-performance meals include a lean hamburger with a lightly dressed side salad, fruit and yogurt with peanut butter toast, oatmeal with brown sugar and almonds plus a glass of skim milk, or a turkey or tuna sandwich with fruit. Thirty to 60 minutes before exercise, consume a small carbohydrate-rich snack to make sure your body is fully fueled. Examples of pre-performance snacks include a piece of fruit, toast with jam, or a sports drink.
For hydration during exercise, a general rule is to consume approximately 4 ounces of water every 15 minutes. If you are exercising for more than an hour or excessively sweating, you may require some electrolyte replacement such as a sports drink. Avoid beverages that are carbonated or contain caffeine, as these may cause distress to the gastrointestinal tract (stomach and intestines). Food can also help replace electrolytes. During exercise, stick to easily digested carbohydrate rich foods such as fruit, crackers, or sports gels and gummies.
Post exercise, the general advice is to consume 15 grams of carbohydrate within 15 minutes. Some example snacks include a small piece of fruit, 1 cup of milk or approximately five crackers. Make sure to keep some of these snack items with you for proper refueling.
Remember: Your muscle fuel is carbohydrate, and it is important to replace what you have used during your workout. It is also important to rehydrate. A post-workout recovery meal should contain a good balance of carbohydrates, protein and fat. This is the time your body will be utilizing protein for muscle repair. Some recovery meal ideas include a bean-and-cheese burrito, a lean deli meat sandwich with a glass of milk, or lean meat stir fry with vegetables and whole-grain noodles.
Food items that are marketed toward athletes such as sports drinks, snack bars and gels can be convenient for athletes but are often not necessary for the average person. These items often contain excess protein and high amounts of calories. For those of us who are not elite athletes, the extra calories can add up quickly. Be sure to read nutrition labels on these items to make an informed choice about whether it fits into your nutrition plan.
It is very important to customize your sports nutrition plan to fit your personal needs. Different athletes and different activities require different hydration and nutrition requirements. Make nutrition part of your exercise routine and practice. Do not try something new on performance day.
A good resource for further information is Sports, Cardiovascular, and Wellness Nutrition, a dietetic practice group of The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. It can be found at www.scandpg.org/sports-nutrition.
Brenda Schwerdt, RDN, LD, CNSC, is a clinical dietitian at St. Luke’s hospital. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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