Sports Nutrition: Frequently Asked Questions (cont.)

What are carbohydrates?

Carbohydrates are sugar and starches found in foods like breads, cereals, fruits, vegetables, pasta, milk, honey, syrups and table sugar. Carbohydrates are the preferred source of energy for your body. Regardless of origin, your body breaks down carbohydrates into glucose that your blood carries to cells to be used for energy. Carbohydrates provide 4 calories per gram, while fat provides 9 calories per gram. Your body cannot differentiate between glucose that comes from starches or sugars. Glucose from either source provides energy for working muscles.

Is it true that athletes should eat a lot of carbohydrates?

When you are training or competing, your muscles need energy to perform. Glycogen is made from carbohydrates and is a source of energy for working muscles. When you work out, your body some of your glycogen supply, which is stored in the muscles. If you do not consume enough carbohydrates, your glycogen stores become depleted, which can result in fatigue. Both sugars and starches are effective in replenishing glycogen stores.

When and what should I eat before I compete?

Performance depends largely on the foods consumed during the days and weeks leading up to an event. If your regular diet is well-balanced and carbohydrate-rich you probably have ample glycogen stores to fuel your athletic activity. The purpose of the pre-competition meal is to prevent hunger and to provide water and additional energy needed for competition. Most athletes eat 2 to 4 hours before their event. Some athletes perform their best if they eat a small amount 30 minutes before competing. Other athletes do not eat for up to 6 hours before their athletic event. For many athletes, carbohydrate-rich foods serve as the basis for their meal.

There is no magic athletic prevent diet. Simply choose foods and beverages that you enjoy and that do not bother your stomach. Experiment during the weeks before an event to see which foods work best for you.

Will eating sugary foods before and event hurt my performance?

In the past, athletes were warned that eating sugary foods before exercise could hurt performance by causing a drop in blood glucose levels. Recent studies, however, have shown that consuming sugar up to 30 minutes before an event does not diminish performance.

What about carbohydrate loading?

Carbohydrate loading is a technique used to increase the amount of glycogen in muscles. For five to seven days before an event, the athlete eats 10-12 grams of carbohydrate per kilogram of body weight; while gradually reducing the intensity of workouts. (To find out how much you weigh in kilograms, simply divide your weight in pounds by 2.2.) The day before the event, the athlete rests and eats the same high- carbohydrate diet. Most athletes should not worry about carbohydrate loading. If they eat a diet that derives more than half of its calories from carbohydrates their body will have adequate levels to fuel their athletic activity. Carbohydrate loading may be beneficial for athletes engaged in endurance sports which require 90 minutes or more of non-stop effort.

Should I take extra vitamins and minerals?

Athletes need to eat about 1,800 calories a day to get the vitamins and minerals they need for good health and optimal performance. Most athletes consume more than this amount. Vitamin and mineral supplements are needed only in special situations. Athletes who follow vegetarian diets or who avoid an entire group of foods (for example, never drink milk) may need a supplement to make up for the vitamins and minerals not being supplied by food. A multivitamin-mineral supplement that supplies 100% of the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) will provide the nutrients needed. An athlete who frequently cuts back on calories, especially below the 1,800 calorie level, is not only at risk for inadequate vitamin and mineral intake, but may not be getting enough carbohydrates.

Will extra protein help build muscle mass?

Many athletes, especially those on strength-training programs or who participate in power sports, are told that eating protein or taking protein supplements will help them gain muscle weight. The true secret to building muscle is training hard and consuming enough calories. While some extra protein is needed to build muscle, most American diets provide more than enough protein. Between 1.0 and 1.5 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day is sufficient. For a 150-pound athlete, that represents 68-102 grams of protein a day.

Why is iron so important?

Hemoglobin, which contains iron , is the part of red blood cells that carries oxygen from the lungs to all parts of the body, including muscles. Since your muscles need oxygen to produce energy, if you have low iron levels in your blood, you may tire quickly. Symptoms of iron deficiency include fatigue, irritability, dizziness, headaches and lack of appetite. Many times, however, there are no symptoms at all. A blood test is the best way to find out if your iron level is low. It is recommended that athletes have their hemoglobin level checked once a year.

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