As a student athlete, I get to hear a lot of nutritional advice from coaches, fellow athletes, friends, and even professors. It’s hard to know who to trust! Taking a nutrition course this past semester primed me in the research necessary to make healthy choices for myself. I’d like to share just a few nuggets of nutritional info, you can keep in mind with your active lifestyle. So get out your notepads and pens, and take yourself back to your student days, because today is a lesson in Exercise Nutrition 101.
You may have heard mixed opinions on what the best pre-competition meal should be. Some are big on protein loading, while others would vote carb loading any day. Both seem like adequate contenders, but there is a clear cut winner in this match-up. There are five major reasons why a carbohydrate- rich meal before a competition is ideal:
Carbohydrates serve as the primary energy nutrient for short-term anaerobic exercise (like sprinting, heavy lifting, etc.) and for prolonged high- intensity aerobic exercise (running, swimming, cycling, etc.).
Carbs replenish sugar storage depletion, which occurs during overnight fast (sleep).
Carbs digest and absorb more rapidly than proteins or fats.
Protein can add stress to exercise in the heat, because of it’s high energy requirement for breakdown and absorption- this extra work lets off heat that can strain the body’s cooling systems.
Protein breakdown for energy requires water, facilitating dehydration.
So how do carbohydrates work? When carbohydrates are consumed, they are converted into blood sugar. If there is an excess of blood sugar, insulin is activated and uptakes this extra sugar and stores it in the form of glycogen, in both the muscles, and the liver. When blood sugar levels are low- such as when it is being used to energize physical activity- glycogen can be taken from either the muscles or liver, and converted back into blood sugar for use.
Because introduction of carbs into the body, and in the form of blood sugar activate an insulin surge- time between eating and exercising is important in order for carbs to be stored and ready for use, blood sugar to be available, and for hormone levels to be normalized.
Okay, I know you’re falling asleep in the back of the classroom, so here it is, what you’ve all been waiting for: the guidelines. The ideal pre-competition meal should include 150-300g of carbohydrate, and be consumed 3-4 hours prior to exercising in order to provide complete time for the meal to be digested, absorbed, and stored.
During normal weekly exercise, the eating can look a little different. Before a normal workout, it’s recommended to eat a simple sugar carbohydrate snack, with little fiber, no closer than 60 minutes prior to exercise.
Once you have started exercising, insulin release is inhibited. Therefore, eating simple carbs during exercise will allow you to grab the new, added energy straight from the blood sugar without hormone complication. A balance of 4:1- carbs to protein- snack may extend time to fatigue and reduce muscle damage, in comparison to only carbs.
Finally, storing up on depleted glycogen stores during exercise and performance, is important for the body to get back to normal functioning levels. It’s thrown out of whack when you exercise. Eat a snack within two hours of exercising, or as close to the end of activity as possible. Once again it should contain a balance of 4:1 carbs to proteins- my go-to is an apple and peanut butter.
Please note, pre exercise meals are only important if a nutritionally sound diet is maintained in lifestyle. While we cannot provide individualized, full nutritional assistance in one article, I would recommend visiting the supertracker site that was released by the USDA. This resource takes into account age, sex, height, weight, and activity level to develop a personalized plan based off of a balanced, and healthy diet perspective.
I personally, would likes to stress the importance of a balanced diet. All of the nutrients are important, even more so when you are using them to fuel physical activity.
PK Fitness Program Coordinator