WMC’s Pauline Hackney, Clinical Nutritionist, MS, RD, CDE, on how athletes should fuel their bodies:
Q: What’s the story on proteins in the athlete’s diet?
A: The jury is still out as to whether protein powders and bars really improve performance for the average athlete. Though athletes do need a little more protein than non-athletes, most Americans eat almost twice the amount of protein they need, so getting enough isn’t usually a problem. Good protein bets include eggs, grilled chicken, dairy products, Greek yogurt, cheese and nuts.
Q: How important are carbs?
A: Often, people minimize the importance of carbs, but they’re the main source of fuel for active bodies. Choosing high-quality carbs, such as whole grains rich in fiber, B vitamins and minerals, is important for peak performance. Eating whole grain carbs and other high-carbohydrate foods—such as starchy vegetables, fruits and dairy products—leading up to an event ensures adequate energy stores in the muscles. Consuming carbs again within two hours after an event ensures that muscle cells are replenished for the next event.
Q: Is there anything that teen athletes, in particular, should keep in mind?
A: In general, teens have higher nutrients needs than people of other ages. They’re still growing and developing, so they need to ensure they get adequate calcium, iron, zinc and B vitamins. Teens who want to shed excess weight by cutting back on calories can be at risk for deficiencies in these critical vitamins and minerals. A balanced diet that includes lots of fruits, veggies, dairy foods and high-quality proteins, in addition to whole grains, will provide what they need.
Q: Should you stop eating a certain amount of time before a workout or a competition?
A: Digesting food requires blood flow that would be diverted away from the muscles to break down a heavy meal. Eating a light snack approximately 45 minutes to an hour before an event—especially one that has both carbohydrates and protein—provides athletes with nutrients without filling them up too much.
Q: Do you have some guidelines for fluid intake?
A: Before exercise, drink 8-12 ounces of fluid, then drink 4-6 ounces every 15 minutes during exercise. Hot weather and strenuous activity might require more. And athletes who are exercising or competing in hot weather for an hour or more should consider a sports drink to replace electrolytes.