Athletes: What to Eat and When for Top Performance

7. Fuel harder workouts.

When you exercise hard for more than one hour, target 30 to 60 grams (120 to 240 calories) of carbohydrate per hour to maintain normal blood glucose levels and enhance your stamina and enjoyment of exercise. Fueling during exercise is especially important if you have not eaten a pre-exercise snack. Popular choices include gummi candy, jelly beans, dried fruits, as well as gels and sports drinks.  More research is needed to determine if choosing a sports drink with protein will enhance endurance performance.

More: How to Refuel After a Hard Workout

8. Eat for recovery.

For optimal recovery, an athlete who weighs about 150 pounds should target 300 to 400 calories of carbs within a half-hour after finishing a hard workout. More precisely, target 0.5-0.7 g carb/lb (1.0-1.5 g carb/kg). You then want to repeat that dose every two hours for the next four to six hours. For example, if you have done a rigorous, exhaustive morning workout and need to do another session that afternoon, you could enjoy a large banana and a vanilla yogurt as soon as tolerable post-exercise; then, two hours later, a pasta-based meal; and then, another two hours later, another snack, such as pretzels and orange juice.

9. Consider your workout intensity.

Whether or not you urgently need to refuel depends on when you will next be exercising. While a triathlete who runs for 90 minutes in the morning needs to rapidly refuel for a three-hour cycling workout in the afternoon, the fitness exerciser who works out every other day has little need to obsess about refueling.

10. Include protein.

Including a little protein in the recovery meals and snacks enhances muscle repair and growth. Popular carb+protein combinations include chocolate milk, yogurt, cereal+milk, pita+hummus, beans+rice, pasta+meat sauce.

11. Target cramps.

Muscle cramps are associated with dehydration, electrolyte deficits and fatigue. Cramps are most common in athletes who sweat profusely and are "salty sweaters." They need more sodium than the standard recommendation of 2,400 mg/day. Losing about two pounds of sweat during a workout equates to losing about 1,000 mg sodium. (Note: eight ounces of sport drink may offer only 110 mg sodium.) Salty sweaters (as observed by a salty crust on the skin of some athletes) lose even more sodium. If that's your case, don't hesitate to consume salt before, during and after extended exercise. For example, enjoy broth, pretzels, cheese & crackers, pickles and other sodium-rich foods. The majority of active people can easily replace sweat losses via a normal intake of food and fluids.

Final Words of Advice

If you can make time to train, you can also make time to eat well and get the most out of your training. Optimal sports performance starts with good nutrition!

Active logo Eat right and perform better. Find a nutrition plan for you.


Discuss This Article

Follow your passions

Connect with ACTIVE.COM