July 30, 2014
Sports Fueling

Liz Broad, PhD wrote a great article on behalf of SCAN's (Sports, Cardiovascular and Wellness Nutrition) recent quarterly update about the basics of athletic fueling. The topic: the 4 "R"s of Recovery for sports nutrition. I found this inspiring and wanted to share. Here's a little background and my findings, plus some tips for getting started:

Nutrition for sport training is different than nutrition for weight loss. This should be known by anyone determining their health goals from the get-go. If you are able to, I would suggest tackling one at a time (i.e. losing weight then PR'ing in a marathon) vs. both simultaneously.


Sports nutrition requires some experimentation and a lot of patience. It's no one-size-fits-all plan for athletes, and often meeting goals regarding muscle gain, speed, agility or similar takes more time and feels less 'tangible' than weight loss goals. Stay realistic and check in with progress in many ways (how clothes fit / inches, more reps in weights, more energy in intervals, etc). Stick with what works for you.


Overall things to focus on with sports nutrition:

  1. Energy: As training and competition level increases, athletes should recognize that energy demands also increase. During prolonged exercise (>60 minutes of high intensity or endurance activity) fuel working muscles with carbohydrate (energy) containing sports drinks, foods, gels, or chews. Aim for a minimum of 30-60 grams of carbohydrate per hour of activity. For higher intensities and very prolonged activity greater than 2.5-3 hours, sports drinks and gels containing multiple forms of sugar can increase absorption and delivery of carbohydrates as well as increase the tolerance of quantity of carbohydrate consumed (up to 90 grams of carb per hour). Practice with different foods to determine tolerance and to see what gives you the most energy and tastes the best. Ex: Gatorade or Powerade vs sports gels or chews vs raisins or banana. Water is needed to aid in absorption of carbohydrate, so don’t forget those fluids if you are choosing something other than a sport drink. Never try fueling with something new on race/competition day. Just like you must train your body for competition, you must train your digestion!

  2. Timing: Having adequate fuel before you workout, especially as an athlete, is key to performing at your best. The pre-exercise meal keeps you from getting hungry before and during exercise and maintains optimal energy for exercise muscles. To avoid stomach upset, consume this meal 2-4 hours before the event. The meal should provide both carbohydrate and protein, low fat and fiber. During endurance exercise remember it's generally better to fuel early and often vs. trying to catch up. And don't forget post-workout fuel. Replenish the energy in your fatigued muscles, and promote muscle recovery, by having carbohydrate and protein post-workout. To effectively re-fill energy in the muscle, eat a small recovery snack soon after exercise followed by a small meal 2 hours and again 4 hours after the workout. Of course this may not be feasible in every scenario, so experiment to find what works best for you!

  3. Food Quality: Incorporating fruits, veggies, lean proteins, beans, whole-grains and starchy vegetables (whole foods primarily vs. processed, refined foods) is ideal. Food can and will be your best form of supplementation when it comes to vitamins, minerals, and inflammation fighting nutrients to improve performance. Ex: leucine (a high quality amino acid especially helpful for muscle rebuild and recovery) in your post-workout snack via 20-25g protein from milk, soy milk, cottage cheese, meat or yogurt can be an excellent choice.

  4. Fluid is often overlooked when it comes to sports fueling and is one of the most important nutritional concerns for an athlete. Did you know that approximately 60% of body weight is water? A dehydrated athlete has less blood volume resulting in decreased performance. To monitor hydration, weigh before and after a practice, workout, or competition. For every pound of body weight lost, drink 16-24 ounces to rehydrate the body. Check urine color, it should be pale in color. Use of an electrolyte replacement beverage (Powerade, Nuun or similar) may be optimal for certain sports or conditions- ask your Dietitian if this applies to you.


The above are general (emphasis on general) tips to get you started with a nutrition plan to fuel the athlete in you. Remember, again, that it is not one-size-fits-all. So experiment, ask for help from your trainer and Dietiitan, and monitor your progress accordingly.


More info from SCAN:

Happy training!

Contributors: Erika Brown and Shelley Guzman

Written by Erika Brown

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