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The Best Fuel for Your Athletic Performance

Posted 7/16/2018 by UHBlog

Learn how to make the most of every minute of your workout by fueling your body correctly. Ask us.

Athletic man adding fruits to jar of milk As an athlete you know there’s a lot more to getting your body primed before a workout than gulping down sports drinks and piling on the carbs. If you want to achieve peak performance and score big, then your game plan should include eating nutritious, power-packed foods.

“Consuming the right combination of carbohydrates, proteins and fats, and limiting processed foods, are the optimal nutritional guidelines to enhance an athlete’s performance,” says registered dietitian nutritionist and board-certified sports dietitian Amy Jamieson-Petonic, M.Ed., RDN, CSSD, LD. “Think of your body like a very expensive car. You want to put in the correct amount of the best fuel available to make it run and perform at optimal levels.”

Whether you’re an Ironman competitor or a weekend runner, whole foods should be the mainstay of your diet. Ms. Jamieson-Petonic recommends filling your plate with nutritious foods such as blueberries, salmon, bananas, tomatoes, oats, spinach and broccoli. Other diet mainstays should include:

  • Fresh fruits
  • Vegetables
  • 100 percent whole grains
  • Lean proteins, such as turkey, chicken, fish and 90 percent or leaner ground beef
  • Lean pork
  • Vegetarian protein sources, such as soy, quinoa, beans, peas and legumes
  • Heart-healthy fats, such as extra-virgin olive oil, peanut butter, avocado, nuts, seeds and nut butters

As to an occasional chocolate chip cookie, slice of pepperoni pizza or scoop of double-fudge ice cream, Ms. Jamieson-Petonic has realistic advice.

“I would suggest limiting processed foods, fast foods and added sugars, but occasionally, a special treat is fine,” she says. “Remember, athletes are expending more energy and calories than sedentary folks, so they need more to keep them going.”

The Importance of Fluids

One area where there should be no compromise is drinking enough fluids, because your speed, power and mental focus will tank without adequate hydration, Ms. Jamieson-Petonic says. Just a 2 percent reduction in hydration can negatively impact your performance.

“Fluid intake is essential and is just as important before and during a workout,” she says.

Ms. Jamieson-Petonic says to plan these fluid intake goals for an event such as a race or competition:

  • Drink two to three cups of water two hours before
  • Drink one cup of water one hour before
  • Drink six to eight ounces of fluid every 15 to 20 minutes during

Your Pre-Workout Meal

Along with stretching exercises, a pre-workout meal is essential before you hit the ground running. By eating the correct foods, you can prevent low blood sugar, fatigue and dizziness during your workout.

The foods you should eat an hour or two before your workout might include half a sandwich, half of a banana or half a bagel, Ms. Jamieson-Petonic says.

Proper eating for peak performance and staying hydrated at all times is important for women and men of all ages.

However, younger athletes who are still growing have higher nutritional needs than senior athletes. And men tend to need more energy than women.

“Just remember that while exercise moves the body, it’s food that fuels it, Ms. Jamieson-Petonic says. “And you can’t do better than a nutritious, balanced whole-foods diet.”

For the top three snacks for athletic performance, watch University Hospitals Sports Medicine Healthy Tip #3: Top 3 Snacks for Athletic Performance.

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

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