What you eat can improve your athletic performance and enable a quicker recovery from physical activity. Understanding the proper quality, quantity, and timing for food and fluids is vital for athletes and those who exercise regularly. WVU Medicine clinical dietitian Judy Siebart, RD provides tips to keep you in good health before, during, and after your workout.
1. Consume 30-90 grams of complex carbohydrates every hour if you’re physically active for 90 minutes or more.
Carbohydrates are the best nutrient source to power up your muscles, boost your energy levels, and reduce fatigue while you’re working out. Carbs will allow for a faster recovery from physical activity, too, when you ingest carbs before you exercise, as well as during and after. Both simple and complex carbohydrates are used as energy and turned into glucose (blood sugar) in the body. For optimal performance, eat complex carbs, such as whole grains, beans, and vegetables, which add fiber and other nutrients. Simple carbs simply provide calories. Make sure you have complex carbs with each meal, and aim for 45-65 percent of your total daily calories to come from complex carbs.
2. Have a moderate amount of protein three times daily.
This nutrient is needed for muscle growth and repair, and many other processes in the body. Within one hour after a workout, consume both a source of protein and a fast-acting carb. Protein balls are a great grab-and-go source of this nutrient, and you can make them with three simple ingredients. Try this recipe: 1 scoop (4 tablespoons) of vanilla whey protein powder, 2 tablespoons honey or maple syrup, and 2 tablespoons natural peanut butter. You can also add other ingredients like: oats, ground flax seed, coconut flakes, chocolate chips, raisins, or nuts. Mix and roll into a ball. Serve immediately or refrigerate for later.
3. Get 20 to 35 percent of your daily calories from unsaturated fats.
Fat is the most concentrated form of energy, and it helps keep us feeling full longer. We need to be aware of the amount of good vs. bad fats in our diet. Avoid trans fats and limit saturated fats. Healthy sources of fat include: olive oil, avocado, nuts, pumpkin and sesame seeds, and fish.
4. Get daily vitamins and minerals from your diet or add a multivitamin.
There are 13 different vitamins required each day for good health. Eating a variety of foods should supply what you need. But if your diet is somewhat limited, a multivitamin with mineral supplement may help.
5. Drink at least 10-13 cups of fluids a day.
Most of the human body consists of water, and hydration is essential for peak performance. Hydrate before, during, and after workouts or competition. Thirst is not an adequate indicator of fluid loss. Water is best when training or practice is less than an hour, and a sports drink is needed when you are exercising for longer than an hour. Sports drinks contain sodium and electrolytes, which help the body retain water and regulate nerve and muscle function.
When working out in the cold, you still need a lot of extra fluids to help warm the air you breathe. Also, with the decreased desire to drink fluids when it’s cold, dehydration is a real risk. Take precaution when exerting yourself in hot and humid conditions. As little as three percent weight loss in humid conditions may demand medical attention. Monitor pre- and post-workout weight. You will need 2-3 cups of fluid for each pound lost.
6. Be knowledgeable about dietary supplements.
There are more than 90,000 different dietary supplements for sale in the US. These products are largely unregulated and are often expensive. Don’t assume a product is safe just because it’s sold over the counter. It could contain banned substances. Read the labels, look for products with natural ingredients, and avoid harmful additives. Check with your doctor or pharmacist about the supplement you are taking to enhance athletic performance. Remember, there is no quick fix or shortcut to athletic success.
7. Use the food first philosophy.
Try to get all of the nutrients you need from real foods. Whole foods have a greater nutritional content than their pill or powder form. And, in most cases, the vitamins and minerals are better absorbed from real food.
Whether you’re an athlete or a weekend warrior, a WVU Medicine dietitian can create a meal plan that works for you and boosts your athletic performance. Make an appointment: 855-WVU-CARE.