Fuel for sport

October 9, 2015

The food you eat fuels your performance, at the gym, on the playing fields, at home and work. The right combination of food and exercise will give you the added edge. Here are some fit tips.

Fuel for sport

1. Eat carbs

Carbohydrates are the body's preferred source of fuel for physical activity and are an integral part of an athlete's training program. Breads, grains, cereals, pasta, fruits and vegetables provide high-octane fuel for muscles and speed up restocking of muscle fuel after exercise. If you aren't eating enough carbohydrates, you will tire more quickly.

The exact amount of carbohydrate required depends on an individual's training and personal requirements. Daily carbohydrate requirements for athletes training heavily can range from  6–10 g per kilogram ( 2.7 to 4.5 g per pound) of body weight.

2. Drink fluids

During high activity, fluid losses increase the risk of cramps, heat exhaustion or heat stroke.

  • Drink before, during, and after an event as part of your exercise routine.
  • Get into the habit of drinking lots of fluids even on days when you aren't working out. Cold water or sports drinks are recommended for workouts, training sessions and competitions.
  • Alcohol and caffeine are dehydrating and don't count as part of your hydrating fluid intake.

3. Time your meals

  1. If you're running a race or competing in an event, have a low-fat, high-carbohydrate meal two to three hours beforehand.
  2. Eat foods you are familiar with and that you digest easily. Fruit, yogurt, bagels, a smoothie or a bowl of cereal are good choices.
  3. If you have food in your stomach when you are working out, blood is diverted away from your digestive tract to your working muscle, leading to cramps and a heavy feeling.
  4. If you exercise first thing in the morning, you have enough reserved energy from the day before to sustain 60 to 90 minutes of exercise.
  5. If you find it difficult to eat breakfast before an early morning workout, have a carbohydrate-rich snack before bed the night before.
  6. If you exercise later in the day and it has been longer than four hours since your last meal, have a snack 45 to 60 minutes before you begin.

4. Try carb loading before endurance events

Carbohydrate loading is appropriate for athletes entering marathons, triath­lons or long-distance bike races. For events that last less than 90 minutes nonstop, a regular high-carbohydrate diet is sufficient.

5. Replenish carbohydrate after exercise

  • After exercise, it is important to replenish the glycogen in muscles.
  • Eat a carbohydrate-rich meal/snack within 30 minutes after a workout. This is when your muscles are most receptive to incoming carbohydrates.
  • Eating carbohydrate-rich foods within hours of a hard workout is important if you are doing two or more events in a day.

6. Replace the sodium and potassium lost during exercise

Eat potassium-rich fruits and vegetables including bananas, oranges, cantaloupe and tomatoes. Replace the sodium lost through sweat by lightly salting your food after exercise.

7. Restock vitamins

Physical activity may increase your need for some vitamins and minerals. However, if you are eating sufficient calories to meet the demands of your activity and the calories are coming from nutritional foods, you probably don't need any supplements.

8. Protein supplies

No need for more protein. Protein is important to help build and repair body tissues and muscle. Many athletes believe that because muscles are made of protein, eating large servings of protein foods will help build larger muscles. This is not true.

Training, not protein supplements, is the best stimulus for muscle growth. Athletes do have an increased protein requirement, but this can be met by a well-planned and well-balanced diet.

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