Nutrition Tips for Athletes
Carbs are an athlete’s main fuel. Your body changes them to glucose, a form of sugar, and stores it in your muscles as glycogen.
When you exercise, your body changes glycogen into energy. If you exercise for under 90 minutes, you have enough glycogen in your muscles, even for high-intensity activities. But if your workout is longer than that, use these strategies.
- “Carbohydrate loading for 3 or 4 days before an event can help top up your glycogen stores,” says sports dietitian Joy Dubost, PhD.
- Eat a diet that gets about 70% of its calories from carbohydrates, including breads, cereals, pasta, fruit, and vegetables, to achieve maximum carbohydrate storage.
- On the day of a big event, eat your last meal 3 to 4 hours before exercising, to give your stomach time to empty.
- Avoid eating sugary or starchy foods within 30 minutes of starting an activity; they can speed up dehydration.
- Replenish carbs, minerals, and water during long exercise sessions. Eat a snack and drink fluid every 15 to 20 minutes. Refined carbohydrates (with sugar or flour) pass quickly into the bloodstream, where they fuel working muscles. Many athletes prefer sports bars, sports drinks, or gels, since they’re so convenient. But fruit and fruit juice are also excellent choices.Reload on carbohydrates after intensive exercise, too. “Since you don’t need quick energy, it’s best to choose less refined carbohydrates” such as a whole-grain bagel or carrot sticks, which provide both carbohydrates and a rich array of nutrients, Dubost says. Protein doesn’t provide a lot of fuel for energy. But you need it to maintain your muscles.