Sports Nutrition: Frequently Asked Questions (cont.)
Is it true that athletes should eat a lot of carbohydrates?
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
When and what should I eat before I compete?
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
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?
past, athletes were warned that eating sugary foods
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?
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
Will extra protein help build
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
athletes have their hemoglobin level checked once a
The RDA for iron is 15 milligrams a day for women and 10
milligrams a day for men. Red meat, fish and poultry are good sources of iron.
Vegetarian sources of iron include: fortified breakfast cereals,
beans and green leafy vegetables.
Should I take an iron supplement?
supplements will not improve performance unless an athlete is truly iron
deficient. Too much iron can cause constipation, diarrhea, nausea
and may interfere with the absorption of other
nutrients such as cooper
and zinc. Therefore, iron supplements should not be
taken without proper