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Lion Hearts or the Pasta Party?
Food 101 for Athletes



by Susan Fekety, RN, MSN, CNM



Suddenly my patients are planning some exciting adventures running here, whitewatering there, scrambling up that. Fantastic let's get outside and play! But friends, many athletes are fit but not healthy; despite great intentions, they eat improperly or overtrain. Typically, folks over-focus on carbohydrates and/or odd chemical concoctions in bizarre delivery systems (drinks, shots, gels, bars). Eating for recovery gets lost in the zeal to eat for performance, but then eventually performance declines as these road warriors lose muscle mass. They get tired, bonk at every event, gain belly weight. When we do electronic body composition analysis, they're shocked (SHOCKED!) to learn their body fat percentage. The chickens have come home to roost. Don't let this happen to you.

I'm not an expert on sports nutrition, but I bet that the athletes in my practice would tell you that they do better when they eat my way. So I thought I'd share, in case you're riding a unicycle to Bangor soon.

Used to be, coaches pushed protein, based on the Gladiator thing of eating lion hearts. Then we pushed carbohydrates, to load muscles with glycogen. Neither makes sense, alone. Between events, emphasize adequate protein and minimal refined carbohydrates (sugar, flour) AND feed your glycogen stores pre-event AND feed yourself protein, carbohydrates, and good fat afterwards. Simple.

You need around 0.7-1.3 grams of protein per kilogram* of body weight daily, depending whether you push your body hard or are a weekend warrior. That's just an estimate nutrition prescriptions are best when based on formal body composition analysis giving resting metabolic rate. I predict that when you do the math you will be shocked (SHOCKED!) by your requirement. So glad we had this little talk!

Prior to an event, you want enough carbohydrate to load your muscles, but not enough to spike and crash your blood sugar. Protein and fat will carry you over the long haul. Eggs, fruit, and water perfect. Save gels/shots/bars for a long event where for one reason or another you cannot access a real piece of food, like a banana. And seriously, water is your body's preferred re-hydration drink.

Athletes especially need abundant healthy fats to reduce inflammation (hello, like, can you walk the day after your event?) and fruit-vegetable antioxidants to counteract free radical damage from heavy breathing and cranked metabolism. When your "thing" is over, be sure to get those, plus some concentrated protein (poultry, fish, eggs) so you can rebuild your shredded muscles. For an immediate post-workout beverage, maybe a whey-based smoothie with a natural sweetener. But later (soon later) I envision for you a delicious real meal big salad, beautiful piece of grilled salmon, roasted sweet potatoes, poached pears for dessert. Can't beat that!

*To get kilograms, divide weight in pounds by 2.2. So for instance, 150 pounds divided by 2.2 is about 68.




Article © Copyright 2009 by Susan Fekety. All rights reserved worldwide. Duplication or reprints only with express permission of the author or, for a nonprofit purpose, without consent so long as the author's name and contact information are included as follows: "Reproduced with permission from Susan Fekety," These articles are provided for informational purposes only. Their content is not meant to substitute for the advice provided by your own health care professional. You should not use the information contained herein for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease, or prescribing any medication. If you have or suspect you have a medical problem promptly contact your health care provider.




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