Athletes of all sports and abilities commonly ask me what they should eat before, during and after a competitive event:
When should I eat the pregame meal: 2, 3 or 4 hours beforehand?
How many gels should I take during a marathon?
What’s best to eat for recovery after a soccer game?
The same athletes who worry about event-day fueling often neglect their day to day training diet. Hence, the real question should be: “What should I eat before, during and after I train?” After all, you can only compete at your best if you can train at your best.
As you prepare for each workout, remember you should be training your intestinal tract as well as your heart, lungs and muscles. To get the most out of each workout, you need to practice your pre-, during- and post-event fueling as well as your sports skills. Then, come day of the competition, you know exactly what, when and how much to eat so you can compete with optimal energy and without fear of bonking nor intestinal distress.
For help with personalized advice on optimizing your training diet, find a local sports dietitian by using the referral network at www.SCANdpg.org. (SCAN is the Sports and Cardiovascular Nutrition Dietary Practice Group of the American Dietetic Association.) Alternatively, many active people have found my Sports Nutrition Guidebook to be very helpful.
Fuel wisely and enjoy training faster, stronger and longer.
Too many of my clients stay clear of bananas. They perceive them as being fattening. As one runner said “I love bananas but I don’t eat them. They are soooo fattening.”
False! While a banana is less watery and more calorie-dense than, let’s say, an apple, 100 calories of a banana is no more fattening than 100 calories of an apple. Both are excellent sources of carbs to fuel your muscles, as well as health protective vitamins and minerals.
What does 100 calories of a banana look like? It’s a medium-sized banana that’s about 7-8 inches long (peeled) and weighs about 4 ounces (peeled).
Now mind you, the same people who avoid bananas tend to eat large apples. That apple could easily weigh half a pound (8 ounces) and cost you 120 calories!
As with every food, there is a “small portion” that offers fewer calories than a “large portion.” Be aware, the calories in all fruits can add up quickly. Yes, fruit is a healthy source of calories, but the calories still count if you are watching your weight. So enjoy medium bananas and large apples -- and rest assured, you will not "get fat" from the banana.
What about energy drinks…??? That’s the Big Question I get asked by high school kids, coaches, parents and other active, under-thirty year olds. They want to know if guzzling drinks such as Red Bull and Full Throttle are OK for energy boosters.
My response to being asked “What about energy drinks?” is to reply, “Why are you lagging on energy? Did you consume an adequate sports diet earlier in the day?” Undoubtedly not.
Generally, the desire for an energy drink is the symptom of a bigger nutritional problem: skipping breakfast, barely eating lunch and now at 3:00 p.m. needing help to get through the afternoon, including a workout.
You’re naïve to think that a can of caffeinated sugar-syrup will optimize performance. While it may stimulate you enough to make the workout seem easier, it will not replace a health-promoting, energy enhancing foundation of wholesome meals and pre-exercise snacks. No energy drink will compensate for poor nutrition.
Energy drinks should really be called “stimulant drinks.” They are the equivalent of a small cup of coffee (energy drinks typically contain between 80 to 140 mg of caffeine) with two heaping tablespoons of sugar (or 7 packets of sugar @ 110 calories). That’s enough to get anyone wired!
Many athletes also question if energy drinks are bad for their health. While I have less concern about the occasional energy drink, I am concerned about over-consumption, especially in small children. I read a medical report about a teenage basketball player who drank four cans of an energy drink and died, likely due to heart problems. The dose is the poison.
Fuel wisely, play well.
For information on how to choose a high energy sports diet:
Here's your chance to learn from two highly regarded sports nutrition experts:
NASHVILLE, TN Sept. 24-25, 2010
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FT. LAUDERDALE, FL Jan. 14-15, 2011
TAMPA, FL Mar. 4-5
ONLINE as home study Every day!
This intensive workshop by Nancy Clark MS, RD CSSD and exercise physiologist William Evans PhD is designed to help sports dietitians, coaches, athletic trainers, exercise physiologists, sports medicine professionals and serious athletes find answers to their questions about--
-eating for health, enhanced performance and longevity
-balancing carbs, protein and sports supplements
-managing weight and eating disorders.
Exercise physiology, exercise and aging, sports nutrition, protein, ergogenic aids, creatine, weight control, counseling tips for eating disordered athletes, case studies and hands-on information.
“Nancy Clark and Bill Evans present a nice balance of science and practical information in their Nutrition & Exercise Workshop. I got what I wanted—plus more!”
“I was surprised to learn new information on a topic I thought I knew so well.”
More often than not, I talk with novice marathoners who assume they will lose weight once they start training for a marathon. After all, if they are running for miles and miles, how could they not lose weight???
Well, guess again, according to a study presented at the American College of Sports Medicine's Annual Meeting. In a survey of 64 participants in a three-month marathon-training program, only 11% of the runners lost weight and 11% actually gained weight. (The rest remained at a stable weight.) Of the 7 who gained weight, 6 were women. They got hungrier and ate more!
Among the entire group of runners, three-quarters of the women reported eating more while training, as compared to only half of the men. It seems that Nature works hard to defend women from losing weight! After all, in terms of evolution, a woman’s job is to be fertile.
Hence, if you are a woman who decides to run a marathon, be sure the primary goal of your training is to improve your endurance, not to lose weight. If you want to do both, you have to carefully manage your appetite. All too often, marathoners can convince themselves they deserve to eat several extra cookies because they just ran a few miles…
In the flood of my daily emails, I often find some meaningful words of wisdom. The story below is from the MEDA newsletter (www.MEDAinc.org). MEDA is the Multi-service Eating Disorders Association, a helpful resource for people who struggle with balancing food and weight. I hope you enjoy this story about Invisible Victories. If you are a compulsive exerciser (perhaps disguised as a dedicated athlete), perhaps it will inspire you to add some gentleness to your day.
By Whitney Post, former World Champion and Olympic Rower
We live in a culture that is always looking for the shiny accomplishment. We are taught to be good, to look good, to achieve more-and it never seems to end. Yet I have found over and over again that the tasks and achievements that are most in line with my recovery are invisible, humble acts that won't take up space on my resume and that I probably won't want to tell anyone about at a cocktail party. Each month in this column I will celebrate an invisible victory that I or one of my clients has accomplished. My hope is that it will help you be better able to spot and celebrate your own.
I want to thank Rachel Bikofsky, our May 2010 Invisible Victory Contest winner for sharing her strength and growth in this essay about the Boston Marathon. I believe it belongs on the medal stand because it articulates something so many of us feel when we see high level athletes, or witness events we think our "perfect" or "preferred" selves should be participating in. The victory here comes in accepting her own body's truth about what is right and balanced, and releasing old ideas of who she should be.
My Invisible Victory – by Rachel Bikofsky
Today was the 114th Boston Marathon, and I didn't run it. Nor did I run the 113th, or the 112th, or any marathon ever, at any time. Every year in recent memory, I have used Marathon Monday as an excuse to berate myself endlessly for my lack of strength and discipline-obviously, if I possessed those qualities, I'd be running. So this year, as the big event loomed once more, I approached it with my usual sense of trepidation...and was pleasantly surprised to be greeted not with self-hatred, but with acceptance and clarity. Here's what I know:
I did not run the Marathon, and this used to mean that I was weak. But, I know I'm not weak, because I wake up at 5:45 every morning, get to work an hour later, and have energy enough to shepherd 25 rambunctious third graders through a full day of learning, five days a week.
I did not run the Marathon, and this used to mean I was undisciplined. But, I know I'm not undisciplined, I just save my discipline for things that matter to me, and running doesn't. I work hard, I study meticulously, I make to-do lists and schedules and stick to them. If I set a goal, I do my best to meet it, and I'm pretty sure that's what discipline is about.
I did not run the Marathon, and this used to mean I'd never have the body I wanted. Well, it does mean I'll never have a marathoner's body, but it doesn't have to mean I'll never have a body I'm satisfied with. Also, it probably means for me I'll have a better chance of keeping my period, and won't have to endure the pain of running with stress fractures in my feet ever again. It means I'll be gentler with my body, and my body and spirit will reflect that.
I did not run the Marathon, and this used to mean I'd never get medals or have people cheer for me. Okay, so it probably does eliminate one possible avenue for medal winning. But last week, one of my students presented me with two tiny origami swans he had made for me in art class. Better than a medal? It was for me.
I did not run the Marathon, and this used to mean I had no worth. While it's true that I'm not a runner, I am a person who stops to touch wildflowers and exclaim over nature, who is intuitive to the needs of others, who loves her family, and who can soothe a crying child. I am a thinker, a writer, and a person with a wicked sense of humor. I am all of those things, so I can also accept what I am not.
What not running the Marathon means is simply that I am not a marathon runner-and there is no longer a value judgment attached to that statement. It's neither good nor bad, it's just what is. And, I'm finally, finally okay with that, or at least more okay than I've ever been before. I did not run the race, or win a medal...., but I have earned an invisible victory, and I think the 114th Boston Marathon has been my best one yet.
I’m interested in collecting information from gastric bypass athletes regarding how they have learned to fuel themselves for their exercise programs.
While there are not lots of “gastric bypass athletes”, the number is growing. (About 6% of gastric bypass patients become highly active as a part of thier weight reduction program.) These hard-working reduced-obese folks have met the challenge of losing large amounts of weight. Some go on to reach their dreams of running a marathon, completing an Ironman triathlon, or hiking the Appalachian Trail.
Because the nutrition advice given to gastric bypass patients is contradictory to optimal sports performance, lots of questions and concerns arise in this population. For example, people who have had bypass surgery are told to limit calories to 1,200 to 1,600/day, avoid simple sugars, limit carbohydrates, sip on fluids, and not drink while eating. Few athletes could excel at their sport with such limitations!
If you know of someone who wants to share their story, please pass along this information and invite them respond to this blog or contact me via www.nancyclarkrd.com.
How can you maintain good energy when you’re exercising for longer than 60 to 90 minutes? By eating enough calories of foods that settle well…!
The standard recommendation for fueling during endurance exercise has been to target 1 gram of carbohydrate per minute of exercise (60 grams of carb per hour, the equivalent of 240 calories for a 150 pound athlete). The research, originally done with just glucose, indicated consuming more than 60 grams of glucose per hour offered no additional benefits. The body has a limited number of glucose transporters and can carry only 60 grams out of the intestines, into the blood stream and to the muscles.
Recent research indicates consuming a variety of sugars (that is, more than just glucose) allows more fuel to become available per hour. That's because different types of sugars (carbs) use different transporters. Generally, athletes consume more than just glucose. (Sports drinks, for example, tend to be glucose+fructose.) Let's say you eat a banana that consists of many different types of sugars and uses many different transporters. Your muscles will have access to more fuel (up to 90 g carb/hour; 360 calories) than if you consume just one kind of sugar (as might happen with some engineered foods).
Variety is a wise idea—as is practicing yoru fueling during long training sessions so you can learn what works best for your body. Some people like engineered sports candy and gels, others prefer dried pineapple and gummy candy. Take your choice--just experiment during training to determine if 200 to 300 calories per hour is the right amount for your body.
Ever wonder about what's best to eat before, during or after exercise?
Want information on how to resove disordered eating patterns and a negative relationship with food?
Are you trying to bulk up and want to figure out the best way to gain muscsle?
Here’s your chance to learn from two internationally known experts at this intensive workshop on Nutrition & Exercise.
Sports nutritionist Nancy Clark MS, RD is renowned for her work with counseling athletes/exercisers.
Exercise physiologist William Evans PhD for his research with protein, weight, and aging.
They will be offering a 1.5 day program that is designed to help coaches, athletic trainers, exercise physiologists, sports nutritionists, sports medicine professionals as well as athletes themselves find answers to their questions about--
-eating for health, enhanced performance and longevity
Many of my clients report they are "always hungry", as if hunger is a personality quirk. Hunger is simply a request for fuel. If you are hungry all the time, you likely are eating too little food during the day (only to overindulge at night).
Think about hunger this way: If you were taking care of a little baby, and the baby was crying because it was hungry, not feeding that child would be called child abuse. Not feeding your own body when it is hungry is being abusive to yourself. Don't do that!!!
Even if you want to lose body fat, you can lose weight without being ravenously hungry. Just eat 100 calories less at the end of the day, and that will theoretically contribute to 10 pounds of fat loss a year. Two hundred calories less at the end of the day, 20 lbs of fat loss. Chip away at weight loss, rather than living hungry (no fun, and not sustainable).
Nancy Clark MS RD
For more information on how to find the right balance of food so you can feel content without getting fat, take a look at chapters 15 and 16 in my Sports Nutrition Guidebook. You'll learn how to lose weight without starving yourself!
Seems like July is a month filled with summer parties. Several of my clients are now fretting about BBQs, beer, ice cream cones, and other such treats. They are afraid they will overeat these goodies and gain weight.
If weight is an issue for you, remember that you can go to a party to enjoy the PEOPLE and not just the food. Too often, weight-conscious athletes pay too much attention to the food at the party, and fail to enjoy their friends.
Here are three tips for surviving social events that abound with tempting food:
1. Don’t arrive at the party feeling hungry. When you feel hungry, you are more likely to treat yourself to goodies “because you saved up calories.” My bet is, if you arrive hungry, you’ll not only eat—but you’ll overeat far more calories than you saved!
2. Eat a diet portion of whatever you want. The first three mouthfuls taste the best; savor those and don't feel the need to eat "the whole thing" just because it is there. Be aware of “last chance eating” (you know, last chance to eat cookies, so I’d better eat another one…”). Take that second cookie home and enjoy it the next day, when your body is ready for some fuel.
3. Socialize away from the food. That is, don’t stand near the picnic table; find someplace where food is out of reach.
These tips work for any social event. Just remember to have fun enjoying the people, and put food at the bottom of the priority list.
The hot weather has (finally) come to Boston and most endurance athletes aren’t use to it yet. Here are a few tips for managing the heat.
--Be sure to not only drink enough fluids during exercise but also add a little sodium to your pre-exercise stint in the heat if you plan to be outside for a a few hours. The sodium helps retain the fluids in your body (as opposed to have plain water go in one end and out the other). This can help delay dehydration and enhance your endurance.
While on a daily basis you might want to minimize your sodium intake, a little extra salt before hot weather exercise can be a wise choice.Some possible choices are chicken noodle soup (or any canned brothy soup), V-8 juice, salted pretzels, baked chips, olives, pickles, ham and cheese sandwich with mustard – or any salted/salty food, before you go. This might be a change in eating habits for health-conscious endurance athletes who cook their oatmeal without salt, rarely eat canned or processed foods, and have no salt shaker on the dinner table.
You might lose 500 to 800+ mg sodium per pound of sweat. (Weigh yourself pre and post exercise to figure our how many pounds of sweat you lose in an hour.) While you need not get obsessed about replacing sodium milligram for milligram, reading food labels can give you a frame of reference regarding how much you replace with your food choices. For example--
A can of chicken noodle soup offers 2,350 mg sodium
A quart of Gatorade offers 440 mg sodium
Eight ounces of orange juice has only 5 mg
Generally, if you crave salt, you should eat salt.
All too often, clients come to me whining they have failed to lose weight, even though they have stopped eating "junk foods." Now, they are eating only "healthy foods." They thought hamburgers, fries, and ice cream were making them fat, so they deleted those foods and replaced them with salads (with lots of dressing), trail mix, and protein shakes. Make that, lots of salad, bags of trail mix, and super-sized protein shakes. Little do they realize, excess calories from "healthy foods" can be just as fattening as calories from "junk foods."
If you want to trim some undesired body fat, your best bet is, indeed, to knock off the excess calories of soft drinks, fried foods, and sweets. Theoretically, eating just 100 fewer calories at the end of the day can contribute to loss of 10 pounds of fat per year. But be sure to count the calories in "healthy foods." .... they can contribute to fat-gain, too. You can gain weight by eating too much fruit, just as you can gain weight by eating too many cookies.
Try to enjoy a food plan that is 85-90% "healthy" foods and 10-15% "whatever". Some days "whatever" might be berries; other days, "whatever" might be blueberry pie. Enjoy the balance.
For more information on how to choose a balanced sports diet that will support your goals:
The American College of Sports Medicine is not the typical college (with a campus and buildings and students) -- but rather an orgaization that brings together health professionals (sports medicine doctors, sports nutritionists, physical therapists) and exercise scientists and researchers. Every year, they have an annual meeting. This year, it is in Indianapolis and I am leaving tomorrow for the week. This is one of my favorite meetings because this is where I learn the latest sports nutrition information. The researchers will be presenting the studies they completed in the past year. I'll look forward to sharing with you what I learn. If you want more information about ACSM, take a look at their website: www.acsm.org.
When I counsel either casual exercisers or competitive athletes, I ask them what they typically eat in a day. I then do a more thorough food intake, gathering details of all that they eat, More often then not, they “try to stay away from” bagels, crackers, pasta, juice, bananas, and other “carbs.” I ask them “Why?” With embarrassment, they mumble, “Because they’re fattening.” The athletes know in their intelligent minds this is not true, but somehow they have fallen victim to fad diets.
If you are among those who “try to stay away from carbs”, think again. Remember that carbs are NOT fattening (excess calories are fattening) and that carbs (such as whole grains, fruits and vegetables) should be the foundation of each meal because they fuel your workouts. I invite you to enjoy whole grain bagels, sandwiches, and pasta – and also enjoy higher energy during your workouts.
Do you really want to never enjoy potato or pasta again.....???
For more information about carbs/weight, please read the chapter on how to lose weight and have energy to exercise in my Sports Nutrition Guidebook (www.nancyclarkrd.com).