Most people are aware that conditions such as pregnancy and diseases like diabetes require special nutritional consideration. Nutritional requirements also vary according to age, weight and lifestyle, so it shouldn't come as a surprise to know that athletes, too, have distinctive nutritional needs.
"The confusion for many people is that they lump training nutrition with daily nutrition," says Marni Sumbal, MS, RD, LD/N, owner of Trimarni Coaching and Nutrition. Sumbal added that many heart-healthy practices, such as eating high-fiber foods, are counterproductive for athletes in training.
Mindy Black, MS, RD, CSSD, LD/N, CPT, a board-certified dietitian and exercise physiologist, agrees with Sumbal that sports nutrition has a different focus than a general dietary regimen: "Athletes need calories to regenerate muscle mass and for optimal metabolism functioning."
Taking these factors into consideration, here is a list of eight foods and ingredients athletes should avoid or limit in order to achieve their training goals and enhance performance.
Limit Sports Drinks
Unless you're working out or running for more than an hour, it simply isn't necessary to consume sports drinks, says Barbara Lewin, RD, LD, sports nutritionist and owner of Sports-Nutritionist.com. Drinking water, green tea or juice will effectively keep you hydrated.
Soda tops the list of high-calorie, nutrient-empty foods. With almost 10 teaspoons of sugar per 12-ounce can, soda drinkers raise their caloric intake and may lose their appetite for healthier foods because they're full. Soda, especially dark-colored, carbonated beverages such as cola, which contain phosphorus, contribute to calcium depletion, cautions Lewin.
And although diet soda doesn't contain actual sugar, studies have shown artificially sweetened products don't aid in weight loss and contain ingredients that aren't good for the body. For carbonated refreshment, try club soda garnished with citrus, or juice spritzers made with equal parts juice and club soda.
Avoid Protein Bars and Energy Bars
Protein bars and energy bars are quick, convenient sources of nutrients, but Lewin discourages clients from overusing them: "Most are highly processed and can't compare to eating a piece of fruit and a hand full of nuts." For athletes who consume bars with the intent of boosting their protein intake, Lewin notes that too much protein in the diet can contribute to bone loss and overtax the kidneys. Many protein bars are also high in saturated fat which can contribute to heart disease, diabetes and obesity.