Nutrition & Fitness
Whether it's playing football, swimming, jogging,
kick-boxing or walking, active people (people who have rigorous exercise
routines or play sports) or athletes need to eat a nutritious, balanced diet to fuel
their body. Good nutrition, like any sporting event, has
basic ground rules. Following these rules and getting
plenty of practice will help active people and athletes feel great!
What diet is best for active people?
All active people need a diet that provides enough energy in
the form of carbohydrates and fats as well as essential
protein, vitamins and minerals. This means a diet
containing 55-60 percent of calories from carbohydrates (10
to 15 percent from sugars and the rest from starches), no
more than 30 percent of calories from fat and the remaining
(about 10-15 percent) from protein. That translates into
eating a variety of foods every day - grains, vegetables,
fruits, beans, lean meats, and low fat dairy products. The
base of the diet should come from carbohydrates in the form
of starches and sugars. Fluids, especially water, are also
important to the winning combination. Dehydration can stop even
the most fit individual from playing his or her best game.
Are carbohydrates important for active people?
When starches or sugars are eaten, the body changes them
all to glucose, the only form of carbohydrate used directly by
muscles for energy. Whether carbohydrates are in the form of starches (in
vegetables and grains), sucrose (table
sugar), fructose (found in fruits and juices) or lactose
(milk sugar), carbohydrates are digested and ultimately
changed to glucose.
The body uses this glucose in the blood for energy. Most
glucose is stored as glycogen in the liver and muscles.
During exercise glycogen is broken down in the muscles and
provides energy. Usually there is enough glycogen in
muscles to provide fuel for 90-120 minutes of exercise.
Most exercise and sport games do not use up glycogen stores
so eating carbohydrates during the activity usually isn't
needed. But for some active people, eating or drinking
carbohydrates during exercise helps maintain their blood
glucose and energy levels.
Most active people need not be concerned with "carbohydrate
loading," the special technique of eating a lot of
carbohydrates for several days before an endurance event.
Instead, focus on getting enough carbohydrates everyday.
The best way to ensure plenty of energy for exercise is to
eat a nutritious, balanced diet that is high in
carbohydrates and low in fat with lots of different foods.
Do active people need extra protein or protein supplements
to build muscles?
No. Muscles develop from training and exercise. A
certain amount of protein is needed to help build the
muscles, but a nutritious, balanced diet that includes two
or three servings from the meat/bean/egg group (6-7 ounces
total) and two to three servings of dairy daily will supply
all of the protein that the muscles need. Extra servings
of protein in foods or protein supplements do not assist in
muscle development. Unlike carbohydrates, protein cannot be
stored in the body and any excess will be burned for energy
or stored as body fat.
What should an person eat before, during and after
The most important thing is to concentrate on eating a
nutritious, balanced diet every day. This provides plenty of energy to grow and
exercise. Here are a few tips about
eating before, during and after exercise.
- Have some high carbohydrate foods like bananas,
bagels or fruit juices. These foods are broken down quickly and provide
glucose to the muscles.
- The timing of this meal depends on the persons
preference for eating before exercise, but researchers have found that eating
something from 1 to 4 hours before exercise helps keep plenty of blood glucose
available for working muscles.
- It is also critical to drink plenty of cool water
before exercise to keep muscles hydrated.
- Perspiration and exertion deplete the body of fluids
necessary for an optimal performance and lead to
dehydration. It is important to drink plenty of cool water,
at least a half a cup of water every 20 minutes of
exercise. Adding a teaspoon of sugar, a little fruit juice or a small amount
of powdered drink mix flavors plain water and may encourage fluid intake.
- Usually there is no need to worry about replacing
carbohydrates unless the exercise lasts over 90 minutes and
is hard and continuous. When this
happens, drinking a sports drink or other beverage with some sugar in it will
fuel and water to the muscles being exercised.
- Make a homemade sports drink by mixing no more than 4
teaspoon of sugar, 1/4 teaspoon of salt and
some flavoring (like a teaspoon of lemon juice) in 8 ounces of water.