Time and again, athletes ask questions about sugar, protein, supplements, caffeine, carbs, recovery and body fat. To address these issues, an international group of sports nutritionists (Professionals in Nutrition & Exercise Science (PINES); www.sportsoracle.com) gathered in Seattle in May. Experts in their fields discussed the latest research and answered commonly asked questions. Perhaps the answers will help you resolve confusing nutrition issues.
Q. Is pre-exercise sugar harmful to performance?
A. More than 100 studies indicate consuming sugar within the hour pre-exercise does not hurt performance. The vast majority of athletes can enjoy pre-exercise sweets for a quick fix. But some athletes are, indeed, "sugar sensitive" and experience rebound hypoglycemia. They quickly learn:
1) to avoid sugar 15 to 45 minutes pre-exercise and instead consume it right before they exercise (the body will not have time to release the insulin that contributes to the "crash") or
2) choose pre-exercise foods that do not produce a "sugar high" such as oatmeal or whole grain toast with a little peanut butter.
Q. How can I gain muscle and lose fat?
A. It's difficult for the body to build muscle and lose fat at the same time. Building muscle requires calories. If you are restricting calories to lose undesired body fat, your body does not have the fuel it needs to create new muscle tissue. Instead, the body breaks down muscle to use for fuel.
A dieting athlete can minimize muscle loss with:
1) a small calorie deficit that contributes to slow fat loss.
2) an adequate protein intake (i.e., some protein at each meal).
3) frequently eaten meals that offer a constant supply of protein and fuel.
4) strength training to help protect against muscle loss.
Q. What should I eat to recover after exercise?
A. After a moderate workout, you need not worry about rapidly refueling because your muscles are not depleted. But if you have done exhaustive exercise, you should plan to replace carbs, water and sodium as soon as tolerable--particularly if you will be exercising again within six hours. Adding a little protein to the recovery meal or snack helps repair damaged muscle, reduce soreness, and also enhance glycogen replacement in athletes who neglect to eat enough carbs:
-For a 150-pound athlete, the recommended carb dose for rapid recovery is ~300-calories every two hours for four to six hours.
-A wise protein target is about 15 to 30 grams protein for a 150-lb athlete, taken right after (and/or during) exercise. (More precisely: 0.5 g carb/lb and 0.1-0.2 g protein/lb)
Simple suggestions include 16 ounces of chocolate milk; a handful of pretzels and a yogurt; a meal such as cereal with milk, Carnation Instant Breakfast or a shake made with milk, powdered milk and a big banana or other fruit.
Timing may be more important than the actual amount of food consumed. Your best bet is to time your meals to your training, so you eat a meal after a hard workout.
Q. What's best to drink during and after exercise? How much?
A. Beverages that include a little sodium (i.e., sports drinks) enhance fluid retention. Alternatively, pre-exercise, you can consume sodium-containing foods (salted oatmeal, pretzels, broth). How much you need to drink depends on how much sweat you lose. Weigh yourself pre- and post exercise; dropping one pound equates to losing 16 ounces of sweat that needs to be replaced. More simply, you can monitor your urine and drink enough to urinate a pale-colored urine frequently throughout the day. Not urinating for several hours post-exercise is bad: dehydration!