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Eating for Your Sport

Posted 3/17/2017 by UHBlog

Do you need help putting together the right meal plans so you can excel at your sport. We can help.

Eating for Your Sport

You are what you eat. And for athletes, what you eat provides the fuel you need to excel at your sport.

“Food provides the energy – through carbohydrates, proteins and fat – that allows your muscles and your body to perform a sport that you’re participating in,” says registered dietitian nutritionist Amy Jamieson-Petonic.

The best diet for you, Jamieson-Petonic says, depends on the sport that you’re involved with.

“Depending on whether you’re participating in an endurance sport or a strength-related sport, you want to have the proper balance of carbs and proteins,” she says. “For an aerobic sport like long-distance running, you want a high ratio of carbs. If you’re a strength athlete, you’re going to need additional protein to build those muscles up, as well as helping your muscles to recover after a workout.”

According to Jamieson-Petonic, you should consider your diet at two levels. First, you'll want to eat an everyday diet that will make your body healthy and strong so you can perform at high levels. The second level is what you'll eat prior to competing in your sport.

“Before performing in a sport, you’ll want to stay away from anything that is high in fat,” she says. “If you eat foods that are high in fat, you’re going to shunt blood to the digestive tract to focus on digesting the food instead of sending it to the muscles where you want it. That also can lead to a lot of digestive issues like diarrhea, cramping or vomiting. Taking foods that are high in dietary fiber just before performing can also present an issue because they take more work and energy for your body to digest. High-fiber cereals and fiber bars will take longer to break down and will shunt more blood away from the muscles to the digestive tract.”

But don't avoid fiber in your overall diet, she says.

“A bowl of oatmeal with some dried fruit and a whole grain bagel, for example, is very good because it gives you long-lasting energy – just not an hour before you exercise,” Jamieson-Petonic says. “If you’re going to have a good meal like that, do it at least three hours before a sport so your body has time to break it down.”

A healthy diet, she says, should include more whole foods and limited or no processed food.

“Simply put,” she says, “Eat food, and not food substitutes.”

A well-balanced meal – such as a turkey sandwich with lettuce on whole grain bread with a tomato and a banana – is an ideal lunch if you'll be participating in a late afternoon sport. Closer to the time of your event, however, go lighter with a snack that is quick absorbing and takes little energy to digest, such as a half banana or a half glass of milk.

“For a quick boost of energy, coffee is a good choice, in a small quantity,” Jamieson-Petonic says. “Coffee has been shown to increase alertness and energy and the ability to concentrate, but too much can cause irritability or anxiousness.”

Energy drinks have been growing in popularity, but they may not be the best choice for a boost, she says.

“There are no regulations on their ingredients,” Jamieson-Petonic says. “They can contain simple sugars, but they also may contain things that are potentially harmful.”

Good hydration – using water or a sports drink – is a key to athletic performance.

“Even minimal dehydration can affect performance,” Jamieson-Petonic says. “A good rule of thumb is if you’re going to exercise less than an hour, water is a fine hydration agent. For longer than an hour, a sports drink that can return carbs and electrolytes to your body is recommended. If you’re running in a high temperature and high humidity, you might choose the sports drink – even if your event lasts less than an hour.”

A sports dietitian can help you plan a diet appropriate for your athletic activity and help you navigate through misperceptions.

“Because of aggressive marketing, many athletes think they have to do protein powders, weight-gain powders or weight-loss pills,” Jamieson-Petonic says “Dietary supplements can be helpful in some cases, but there is so much more you can do for yourself with proper nutrition. And with no regulations on supplements, it’s like the Wild West out there.”

Amy Jamieson-Petonic, M.Ed., RDN, CSSD, LD is a registered dietitian nutritionist at University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center. You can request an appointment with Jamieson-Petonic or any other health care professional online.

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