Nutrition for Better Performance, by Hollis Bass, MEd, RD
Nutrition for Better Performance
Whether you just started a walking program, play soccer on the weekends, or run marathons, nutrition plays an important part in your exercise plan. Here are answers to some common questions about nutrition and exercise.
Q: I know that it's important to stay hydrated while exercising, but how
much is enough?
A: Dehydration affects your ability to exercise at any level, so getting enough fluid before, during, and after activity is important. For heavy exertion, experts recommend drinking at least two cups of fluid about 2 hours before exercising, then more before you start. You should also drink during and after heavy workouts. Remember, thirst is a symptom of dehydration, so don't wait until you're parched to get some fluid. Drink at least 8 cups of water daily in addition to what you get while exercising.
Q: What's the best fluid: water, juice, or sports drinks?
A: The best fluid depends on how long you exercise, when you drink it, and your personal preference. Most people who workout for less than one hour will probably do fine with plain water. It's readily available and inexpensive. Endurance athletes may benefit from the carbohydrate and electrolyte content of sports drinks. These beverages also taste good, so you may end up drinking more. Juice (100%) is a good choice for before and after exercise, but should be diluted with water (about half and half) for drinking during a workout, due to its higher carbohydrate content. If you're trying to lose weight, consider that the calories in sports drinks can add up.
Q: Should I eat more calories when I'm working out?
A: The amount of calories you need depends on your goals and the type of exercise you choose. Longer, more intense workouts burn more calories than shorter, less intense activities. If your goal is weight loss, you need to eat fewer calories than you expend or burn calories through exercise. Or do both, which is ideal.
Q: Will a high protein diet build muscle?
A: No--this is a common myth. Only working out will strengthen and build muscle. Amino acid supplements and protein powders won't help either. When you eat more protein than your body needs, it converts to fat (just like if you eat too many calories from carbohydrate or fat). A high protein diet can be harmful to your kidneys and cause dehydration. Only elite athletes need to eat a little more than the 2-3 recommended servings of lean meat, poultry, fish, eggs, beans, nuts or seeds daily.
Q: So what should I eat to give me energy for my workouts?
A: Your body's first choice for energy is carbohydrate. Athletes should follow the recommendations for the general population and follow a low fat, moderately high complex carbohydrate eating plan. The best complex carbohydrate foods are: whole grain breads and cereals, whole grain pasta and brown rice, starchy vegetables, and beans. Six to eleven servings/day, plus plenty of nutrient-packed fruits, vegetables, and low fat dairy products, should give you enough energy to complete your workouts.
Q: Should I cut out fat altogether?
A: No. But you should eat a low-fat diet. Concentrate on eating more fiber by eating more fruits, vegetables, whole grains and beans. Choose fat-free dairy products and fish and lean poultry but do not load up on fat-free cookies and other refined carbohydrates because these are high in calories.
Q: What should I eat before, during and after exercise?
A: What you eat depends on the activity's intensity and duration. In general, eat a high-complex carbohydrate, moderate protein, and low fat meal 1-6 hours before your workout or competition. Fluid intake is more important during a workout, but if you're participating in an all-day event, snack on high-carbohydrate, low fat foods like whole grain crackers, whole grain cereal and fruit. After a heavy workout, be sure to replenish body fluid lost by drinking two cups of water for every pound lost through sweat. Juice and sports drinks also provide carbohydrates that were burned for energy. To replenish your body's carbohydrate stores, eat a high carbohydrate meal within a few hours after a long workout or competition.
Q: What about supplements that claim to increase performance?
A: Don't be fooled by these claims! The best way to improve performance is hard work and proper training. And we already know that your body uses carbohydrate for energy, not vitamins, minerals, amino acids, or herbs. The best advice for everyone--from the elite athlete to the mall walker--is to eat a well-balanced diet, rich in whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, moderate in lean meats and protein sources, and low in fat.