Sports Nutrition: 8 Nutritious Ways To Maximize Your Workout

Wednesday, September 27, 2006 - 10:05am

By Dena McDowell, MS, RD

You may have heard that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. However, if you are an athlete the meal that you consume directly after your workout is actually the most important meal of the day. To replace the "fuel" in your muscles it is important to eat a mixed meal of carbohydrates and protein when you have completed your exercise. This will enable you to recover faster and will minimize any chronic fatigue. However, there are other things you can eat before and during a workout that can also help you maximize your exercise routine.

Below are helpful hints on what and when to eat to maximize your performance.

1.   Focus on high carbohydrate foods in your diet for your performance

Your muscles rely on carbohydrates for glycogen synthesis (the process of converting sugar into storage form for later use). For example, add pancakes or cereal in the morning, pasta salad for lunch, or a baked potato for dinner. Add moderate amounts of protein and fat to complete the meal.

2.   Eat carbohydrate-rich foods as soon as possible after exercising

Eating foods rich in carbohydrates with small amounts of protein within one hour of exercising allows the muscles to recover quicker. Use the four-to-one ratio as a rule of thumb. This means for every 4 grams of carbohydrates in the meal there should be 1 gram of protein. A practical example of this is having a peanut butter sandwich and an apple after a workout. This combination provides enough carbohydrates and protein to refuel your muscles.

3.   Eat 200-400 calories within one hour of working out

Examples include:

  • Small bowl of cold cereal with low-fat milk and a fresh piece of fruit
  • 1 cup of low fat milk, one piece of fruit and one granola bar
  • 1 1/2 cups of rice or pasta, 2-3 ounces of meat and a 1/2 cup of vegetables

For more information on coping with eating late after a workout see the following article from TheDietChannel: Post-workout meal: Appropriate after 8p.m.?

4.   Drink adequate fluids during and after exercising

It may take up to two days to replenish fluid losses if you were exercising hard in hot temperature or if you sweat a lot. If you feel thirsty, you are already dehydrated. Thirst is a poor indicator of hydration. Instead make sure you drink a minimum of half a cup fluid for every 15 minutes of exercise. Monitor your weight before and after. For every pound of body weight lost drink a minimum of 2 cups of fluid. Check your weight on a scale before and after you exercise to see how much water you need to replace. Try water, sport drinks, juicy fruit, 100% natural juice, gelatin and popsicles to meet hydration needs.

5.   If you crave salty foods after exercise, try eating a salty snack such as pretzels, soup or crackers

Sport drinks may also help to meet your sodium needs during and after exercise. Twenty four hundred (2400) milligrams of salt is the recommended daily intake; however Americans typically consume closer to 4000 milligrams a day. Eating a regular diet will usually meet your sodium needs. Steer clear of salt tablets as they may further cause dehydration.

6.   Eat foods rich in potassium to prevent muscle cramping

Potassium rich foods (such as bananas, cantaloupe, orange juice, apricots, potatoes and raisins) help pull the salt into the muscles and can prevent muscle cramping. A recommended daily intake for potassium in 3500 milligrams. A banana has 450 milligrams. If you do not get enough potassium rich foods then consider taking a multivitamin that has potassium in it.

7.   Increase carbohydrates in your diet for at least two days after strenuous exercise

This will help replace muscle stores of carbohydrates. An easy way to do this is to add carbohydrate rich snacks between meals. For example, add crackers, vanilla wafers, cereal, popcorn, granola bars or fruit as healthy snack options between meals.

8.   Give yourself a break from training

Taking a day off from training will allow you to rest and recover fatigued muscles. Maintain your normal diet on your off days and remember to properly hydrate throughout the day.

For more information on sports nutrition see the following article from TheDietChannel: Maximize Your Workout with Protein and Nutrition Timing.