2021-04-20T10:27:06-06:00April 20th, 2021|

Ask the Experts: How can proper nutrition help fuel my athletic and fitness goals?

Spring and summer are great times to improve your fitness, and part of achieving your athletic goals involves proper nutrition.

Regional One Health’s clinical nutrition team has advice anyone can use, whether you’re looking to start a fitness program or training for an endurance event.

By eating nutrient-rich foods and staying hydrated, you can give your body the energy it needs to increase activity.

As the weather gets warmer and the days get longer, it’s a great time to improve your fitness or even train for one of your athletic bucket list items.

While exercise is crucial to that, so is something else – the food you give your body to use as fuel. Hannah Reynolds, a clinical dietitian at Regional One Health, offered guidance on making sure your nutrition supports your athletic goals.

“As a dietitian, estimating nutritional needs is a calculation we perform every day,” Reynolds said. “This includes but is not limited to the amount of calories, protein and fluid a person needs. For a person who is more sedentary, their nutritional needs will be lower than someone who is expending more energy, such as a recreational athlete.”

Nutritional needs increase based on the type of activity you perform. The more strenuous your training, the more calories and more protein you’ll need to maintain muscle mass and energy.

Reynolds said for lower-intensity workouts like walks, leisurely bike rides or yoga, nutritional needs can usually be met by staying hydrated and supplementing healthy meals with small snacks like an orange, granola bar or peanut butter and crackers.

Hannah Reynolds is a clinical dietitian at Regional One Health. She said eating nutrient-rich foods, staying hydrated and adjusting calorie intake based on activity level are all keys to fueling your body to perform.

Someone training for a distance race, however, needs a nutrition plan that will supplement their muscle fuel stores before and during a race. During races or training, carbohydrates are depleted, so you’ll need fuel to sustain endurance.

“An individual’s carbohydrate intake should reflect their daily training load – increasing total carbohydrates and energy intake during high volume days and decreasing intake when volume and intensity are reduced,” Reynolds said.

She said nutrient dense, carbohydrate rich foods can fuel heavy training days. Examples include wholegrain breads and cereals, starchy vegetables, fruits and dairy – try avocado toast, fruit smoothies and yogurt parfaits. Additional carbohydrate rich foods and sports drinks or energy chews can be used as supplements to meet energy needs.

Protein intake is also important. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Dietitians of Canada and the American College of Sports Medicine recommend 1.2-2.0 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day, depending on training. “For someone participating in recreational activities, I would suggest a lower range – 1 to 1.3g/kg of body weight,” Reynolds said. “The amount of protein ingested should be spaced throughout the day and within two hours after a workout with carbohydrate sources for muscle repletion.”

Proper fluid intake is also essential to transport nutrients, maintain energy and regulate body temperature and blood pressure. “Never rely on thirst,” explained Jacqueline Daughtry, clinical dietitian and manager of clinical nutrition at Regional One Health.  “In doing so you may negatively affect your workout, activity or performance.”

The American Council on Exercise suggests 7-12 ounces of fluid 15-30 minutes before activity and 4-8 ounces every 15-20 minutes during activity. For vigorous activity, athletes should take in a little more than 2 cups per hour. After your workout, drink another 8 ounces of fluid, followed by 2-3 cups over the next few hours.

Aim to consume 16-20 ounces of fluid for every pound of weight lost during exercise.

Proper nutrition helps you meet your fitness and athletic goals, whether you’re trying to get in shape or training for an endurance event.

Food and fluid are important not only as fuel, but for recovery. “After training, intake of carbohydrate rich foods or drinks will aid rapid muscle glycogen repletion, particularly if one decides to train twice in one day,” Reynolds noted. “Adding in protein rich foods aids in muscle repair and building of new muscle and red blood cells.”

Replenish fluid to prevent fatigue, cramps and dizziness and refuel with lean protein, healthy carbs and healthy fats. Look for foods that are high in Omega 3s to provide heart healthy nutrients and aids in the prevention inflammation, and for potassium rich foods, to ease muscle cramps, soreness and inflammation.

Good options include oatmeal, quinoa (carbs), potatoes, bananas, oranges (carbs and potassium) milk or yogurt (carbs, potassium and protein) and cold-water fish, walnuts, chia and flax seeds (Omega-3s and protein)

The timing of meals and snacks are also important, Reynolds said.

It’s hard to achieve peak performance on an empty stomach, but performance also suffers if you eat a very large meal right before exertion. Dietitians suggest a small meal or snack prior to exercise or activity.

To support our team’s efforts to promote healthy lifestyles in our community, visit regionalonehealthfoundation.org