Once upon a time, warriors (the original athletes) ate lions' hearts. Today, athletes seek out energy drinks and protein shakes for fuel.
Clearly, times have changed. In case you're wondering what else is old—and new—when it comes to sports nutrition, I've compiled an update to help eliminate confusion so you can fuel for success.
Old: The Lighter You Are, the Better You'll Perform
New: A genetically lean runner who eats enough to have well-fueled muscles has an advantage over a runner who is genetically heavier and has to skimp on food to maintain an unnaturally low weight.
Research with elite female swimmers indicates those who restricted calories to lose weight lost speed, but not body fat, during a 12-week training cycle, while those who ate adequately swam faster (1). Thin at any cost often comes with a high price tag.
Old: Female Runners With Low Body Fat Will Stop Having Regular Menstrual Periods
New: Lack of fuel has a greater effect on a women's menstrual cycle than body fat.
Many very lean female runners do have regular menses. Although they may have very little body fat, they eat enough to support both their exercise and normal body functions.
Old: Eat Fat, Get Fat
New: Yes, excess calories can turn into body fat. But healthful fats (i.e., nuts, olive oil, avocado, salmon) are an important part of a runner's diet and help reduce inflammation.
Runners also need dietary fats to absorb important vitamins such as A, D, E and K. Fat also fuels the muscles. Small amounts of fat get stored within the muscles and can enhance stamina and endurance. Research suggests runners had more endurance when they switched from a very low-fat diet to a moderate fat diet. (2)