carbs

The Science of Fueling for Performance

The Science of Fueling for Performance

 

As a sports dietitian, I rely on the research of exercise physiologists and sports scientists who study the best ways for competitive athletes to fuel their bodies to optimize their performance. John Ivy PhD, Professor Emeritus at the University of Texas–Austin and author of Nutrient Timing, is one such researcher. Here are some of his insights. Continue Reading

What about the Paleo Diet…?

Q. Nancy, should I go on the Paleo Diet? I’m an avid fitness exerciser who wants to eat healthfully and take good care of my body.

A. I am sure many readers will think that I am “old school” by not jumping on the Paleo and anti-carb bandwagons, but I do pay close attention to the science regarding how to best fuel your muscles and your mind. The Paleo Diet, in my opinion, is unbalanced, unsustainable for more than a few years, and may well trigger binges on cookies and treats. The Paleo Diet is not the best food plan for active people.

I am a bigger advocate of eating a balanced variety of wholesome grains, lean meats, protein-rich beans and legumes, fresh fruits and veggies, and lowfat dairy. I teach my clients how to choose a winning variety of foods (and nutrients) from all food groups in a pattern they want to maintain for the rest of their lives. Paleo dieters, in comparison, have to “cheat” and “blow their diets” if they want to eat something yummy like pasta, bagels, birthday cake or holiday treats. Not a good plan or mindset. My clients learn how to incorporate some treats into an overall well balanced diet.

Many folks go on the Paleo Diet as a way to eliminate junk food and “bad carbs.” The hype about “bad carbs” should actually be targeted to overfat, underfit majority of Americans. Because you are athletic, you should get at least half of your calories from fruits, veggies and grains – the wholesome, quality carbs that fuel your muscles and invest in your good health. With well-fueled muscles, you can then train hard, lift heavy weights, and feel great.

Your food plan can also include some sweets and treats. Your overall diet should be 85-90% “quality calories” and 10-15% “whatever”. Some days “whatever” is blueberries, and other days “whatever” is blueberry pie with ice cream. No need to feel guilty for having a little dessert from time to time as long as you routinely eat a foundation of wholesome meals.

For more information on how to choose a sustainable, high quality sports diet:

Nancy Clark’s Sports Nutrition Guidebook

Is sugar bad for athletes?

Most athletes can metabolize sugar without problems. That’s because exercise enhances the transport of sugar from your blood into your muscles with far less insulin than needed by the body of an unfit person. The unfit body contributes to the rise in blood sugar that triggers the need for excess insulin and leads to the “crash.”

The most common reason for “sugar crashes” (hypoglycemia) among athletes relates to running out of fuel. The shakiness and sweats are because the athlete did not eat enough carbs to maintain normal blood glucose levels and the brain is now demanding sugar. One marathoner thought the 100-calorie gel he took at mile 16 caused him to “crash.”  More likely, he needed 200 to 300 calories to meet his energy needs, not just 100 calories.

Regarding health, some sugars are better for you than others because they offer more nutrients. For example, the sugar in sport drinks provides “empty calories” with no nutritional value (unless they are fortified to give a healthier appearance). The sugar in orange juice is accompanied with vitamin C, folate, potassium, and many other vitamins, minerals, and plant compounds that contribute to good health.

While juice offers slightly less nutritional value than you’d get by eating the whole fruit, most anti-juice hype is targeted at overfat people. Liquid calories from juice, soda and sports drinks do not contribute to satiety (fullness). Hence, drinking sugary beverages with meals adds extra calories that can contribute to undesired weight gain. Yet, for active people who want to gain weight, juice can help a skinny athlete easily boost calorie intake while simultaneously adding carbs for fuel that enhances muscle-building workouts.

Even though refined sugar adds “junk calories” to a sports diet, you need not eat a sugar-free diet to have a good diet. A fit and healthy person’s menu can accommodate 10% of calories from refined sugar (World Health Organization’s guidelines). Yet, if you frequently consume sports drinks, gels, and sports candies—as well as other sweets—you can easily consume more than 250 to 350 calories (10% of calories) from refined sugar. Please don’t displace too many fruits, veggies and whole grains with empty calories from sugar…

For more information:

Nancy Clark’s Sports Nutrition Guidebook

 

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