Best ways to fuel your workouts

food for athletes

One of the best advantages a serious athlete should use is to fuel their body with the right foods for enhancing performance.  Whether participating in an athletic competition or simply performing a workout, what you eat makes a difference. From proper fueling with carbohydrates for energy, fluids for regulating body temperature, and high quality protein promoting muscle growth and tissue repair, can be the answer to improved athletic strength and endurance.

Is there a specific diet athletes should follow?

There is no one diet all athletes should use as all athletes are individuals with unique needs. But, the best overall way of eating is to eat a balanced diet of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and protein giving athletes the energy they require.

Depending on the intensity and endurance needed for specific sports, will determine the amount of food needed. In general, here are guidelines athletes can follow:

  • Protein: About 15 to 20 percent of daily calories should come from protein. Athletes participating in intense training may need up to twice the daily recommended amount of protein. Best protein sources include lean beef and pork, poultry, fatty fish like salmon or halibut, eggs, and low-fat dairy.
  • Healthy carbohydrates: For athletes participating in low endurance sports, about 45 to 55 percent of calories each day should come from healthy carbohydrates (whole grains, beans, lentils, nuts, fruits, and vegetables). Endurance athletes and those engaging in frequent high-intensity training may need more carbohydrates.
  • Good fats: Plan for about 25 to 35 percent of daily calories to come from fats. Healthy fats like those in avocadoes, nuts, and olive oil help replenish and maintain energy.

Should athletes use protein powders or other supplements?

The vast majority of people already get enough protein from food and supplements are usually unnecessary. However, research suggests that protein supplements combined with resistance training may help improve muscle mass and strength.

According to the International Society of Sports Medicine, creatine, a popular pre-workout supplement, can improve exercise and performance and may enhance post-workout recovery. For post-workout recovery, consume protein powder or shakes within 60 minutes of finishing a workout to help repair and build muscle. Whey protein powders (derived from milk) are among the most effective option.

Is there a best time to eat before a workout?

It’s advised to eat a small meal or snack 1 to 3 hours before exercising. Limit large meals to 3 to 4 hours before your workout to prevent nauseous or feeling too full. If you need quick energy shortly before an event or workout, eat a piece of fruit such as a banana 5 to 10 minutes beforehand, otherwise you might feel sluggish or lightheaded.

What’s the best fluid for hydrating and endurance?

Replacing fluid lost during training is crucial before, during and after a workout. Drinking sufficient water will be the best fluid for most athletes. However, if the workout extends an hour or more, sports drinks will be the best choice helping not only replenish fluid losses but also provide extra carbohydrates for sustained energy.

If I exercise regularly, I can eat what I want without weight gain, right?

The quickest answer is no. We tend to overestimate the amount of calories burned when working out. For serious athlete engaging in strenuous activity such as for a triathlon, recovery nutrition is necessary if working out more than once a day. For the casual exercises working out for an hour or less, a healthy balanced diet will work just fine.

Is chocolate milk really an athlete’s best friend?

Chocolate milk is indeed an effective recovery aid because of its favorable carbohydrate and protein content. But it’s not the only choice. One of your first priorities after a workout is to replace lost fluids. Plain water and water-rich foods such as fruit are good choices after a moderate workout lasting less than 60 minutes. For more strenuous workouts, carbohydrate should be consumed within 30 minutes of finishing the workout. This can be done with a sports drink or a carbohydrate-rich snack such as a fruit smoothie made with Greek yogurt.

Best ways to fuel your workouts
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Dr. David Samadi

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Dr. David Samadi