Proper food intake improves overall health, boosts sport performance, enhances muscle recovery, and can help prevent injuries. Leaner, stronger bodies perform better and are not achieved via exercise alone: Weight loss and increased muscle mass are attained 80% through diet and 20% from exercise. The right foods help improve body composition (increased lean tissue with decreased fat mass), allowing for more muscle mass, which means increased strength and power. These facts prove true for all athletes, including dancers, runners, golfers, swimmers, rowers, and rugby players, to name a few.
3 Important Tips To Get You Started:
1. HYDRATE YOURSELF: Lack of thirst does not mean you are properly hydrated. A better indicator of proper hydration is having pale yellow colored urine. Drink fluids before, during, and after physical activity. As little as 2-3 percent of body weight lost in sweat can affect performance. The best way to determine how much water lost during activity is to weigh yourself before and after long duration (90 mins or more) or very sweaty or outdoor workouts. The weight lost determines the amount of fluid you need to replace: 24 ounces per pound lost. It is especially important for water and cold-weather athletes to follow the above tips to make sure they hydrate properly as well, despite not noticing the sweat losses.
2. FUEL YOUR BODY: BEFORE, DURING, AFTER Fuel your body 2-3 hours before physical activity to supply your muscles with energy and delay fatigue. Focus on eating carbohydrate-rich foods with moderate amounts protein and minimal fat. For endurance activities lasting longer than 1 hour, have carbohydrates and water or a sports drink on hand. Within 30 minutes after physical activity and again within 2 hours, replenish muscle energy stores with a recovery meal or snack that is high in carbohydrates, moderate in protein and more liberal in fat.
3. CHOOSE WHOLE FOODS Eat mostly minimally processed, whole foods. Whole foods contain an ideal blend of many natural ingredients that even supplements cannot match.
Nutrition and Hydration for Activities Lasting Longer than 90 minutes
1-2 hours Before Activity:
- Consume a low-fat, low-fiber, high-carbohydrate snack for energy that is easy to digest and does not result in stomach discomfort.
- Consume a moderate amount of protein to maintain satiety.
- Choose familiar, well-tolerated foods. (Try new foods during practice or casual events, not during tournament, race, or game day.)
Food Examples: Oatmeal topped with nuts, raisins, and skim milk or slice of whole wheat bread with peanut butter, and sliced banana
During the Activity
- Replace fluid losses.
- Sufficient carbohydrates to maintain optimal blood sugar levels. Drink 8 oz sports drink every 20-30 minutes to maintain hydration, replenish electrolyte loss, and provide some energy.
Examples: Sports drink containing carbohydrates and electrolytes (Gatorade, Gu with 16oz of water) or a banana and water
- Replace fluids and electrolytes losses (determined by weight lost if possible).
- Sufficient carbohydrates to replace muscle glycogen
- Protein for building and repair of muscles
Examples: Peanut butter and jelly sandwich with a glass of low-fat or chocolate milk, or grilled chicken with steamed broccoli and brown rice
Make sure you have a backup: If you are unable to have a meal or snack before or after your workout, carry some non-perishable options. For bars I recommend all natural bars NOT loaded with saturated fats (partially hydrogenated and palm kernel oils) and added sugars (cane sugar, fructose, corn syrup, rice syrup, evaporated cane juice, dextrose, maltose, molasses…to name a few). Do NOT fall for sport-specific bars that may have great marketing but contain some or all of these ingredients. Some of my favorites (for taste and health) are: Larabar, Luna Bar, Gnu Bar, Kind Bar, Pure Organics Bar, the Real Bar, Cliff C Bar.