The proper fuel is important to get anything moving and this includes your body! When you fuel your body with the right food, fluids and nutrients, you are giving it the ability to perform the tasks you need it to, strengthen muscles and maintain bone health. This is even more important during exercise to ensure proper muscle recovery, reduce fatigue and regulate body temperature.
As I’ve mentioned, I recently attended a sports nutrition seminar by Dr. Kathy Dollins. This was presented to my Team Challenge group, the running team for the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America. The presentation was incredibly helpful and I wanted to share a few bits of information that I found useful.
First let’s look at proper nutrition. There are 6 main groups that lead to proper nutrition: carbohydrates, protein, fats, vitamins, minerals, and water. Which of these do you think is the most important? I guessed water, but I was wrong. In fact, they all are just as important and work together as a team to fuel your body!
These nutrients are ingested into your body in the form of calories and calories = energy. Energy is what is needed to get you through those tough workouts and long runs, so you must consume enough calories prior to exercise. Makes sense, right? A lack of energy can result in not only a poor workout, but it can also lead to a loss of muscle mass, weakened bones, a decrease in your protein stores, fatigue, and an increased risk of injury and illness. All things that runners do NOT want.
So what’s the trick to getting the right amount of energy? Carbs. Oh the dreaded carbs, they’ve gotten such a bad rap lately. But really, they are a runner’s best friend. Carbohydrates contain a molecule call glycogen, which is stored in your muscles and liver and is used as a source of fuel during exercise. You know the old running term “carb-loading” right, well this refers to storing up enough glycogen to avoid depletion during a run. When glycogen begins to deplete, you hit the proverbial wall and can be overcome by fatigue. To avoid this, make sure to eat carbohydrates through out the day to keep your stores high. Each meal should include at least one carbohydrate and before strenuous exercise, like races, make sure about 3/4 of your plate is filled with carb foods. Just don’t forget to include the other 6 nutrients in there as well.
I think the most important thing to remember here is to continue to fuel your body throughout the day. Make sure to ALWAYS eat breakfast. Mom didn’t tell you it’s the most important meal of the day for nothing! Breakfast gets your metabolism going and helps to process all of those nutrients. When you skip breakfast, you start the day in a negative balance and no one likes to be negative. 😉
Don’t forget that fuel also means hydration. I posted earlier in the week about water and how to find out if you’re getting enough during your workout, but you also need to make sure fuel and hydrate within 3 hours of a workout to ensure optimal performance. Now there are sports drinks, which provide hydration, fuel, electrolytes and carbohydrates, but these should be reserved for during and after a workout. I personally don’t like sports drinks, but I’ve been reading a lot about their benefits so it’s something I need to explore more.
I hope this little sports nutrition 101 summary was helpful to getting you started in finding the proper nutritional balance for your workouts. Nutrition and sports nutrition in particular are becoming more of an interest for me since it is something I’ve struggled with in my training. I’m continuing to ingest (get it?!) as much information as I can, so hopefully I’ll be sharing more helpful hints in the future.
Do you have any fueling tips? What do you eat throughout the day to get the proper exercise nutrition?