Boosting your athletes’ performance may be as simple as changing when they eat. The primary goal of sport nutrition is to enhance optimal performance. By increasing the availability of muscle glycogen (stored carbohydrate) before, during, and after activity, your athletes will be able to sustain the intensity of the activity as well as facilitate recovery from each training session.
What should your athletes eat pre-exercise?
•Eat a small meal about 2-3 hours before exercise or competition.
•Consume foods that are high in carbohydrates and low in fat.
•Drink a carbohydrate beverage or small snack consisting of 10–30% carbohydrate an hour before exercise.
•Avoid eating foods high in sugar (candy, syrups, soft drinks), which provide an initial rush of energy followed by a crash that leaves your athletes feeling sleepy.
•Each athlete has individual food preferences, so encourage them to experiment with different food combinations to find the right mix.
What should your athletes eat during exercise?
•Typically there is enough energy stored in the muscles to fuel workouts lasting between 60 and 90 minutes.
•During prolonged or strenuous exercise sessions over 90 minutes in duration, eat or drink carbohydrates at regular intervals throughout the session.
•Drink 8 ounces (1 cup) of a sports drink containing a 6–10% carbohydrate concentration every 15–20 minutes.
What should an athlete eat post-exercise?
•Don’t have them wait to eat. Refueling within the first 2–3 hours after exercise is crucial for fast recovery.
•The athlete should drink a high carbohydrate beverage (10–30% carbohydrate concentration) immediately following a workout.
•Liquids are absorbed very quickly and help with optimal rehydration.
•Make sure the athlete eats a well-balanced, high-carbohydrate meal and drinks plenty of fluids, especially within the first 2-3 hours following the exercise session.
•For optimal glycogen resynthesis, have your athletes follow these carbohydrate intake guidelines during the 20 hours following a workout:
•Immediately after exercise (15–30 minutes): 75–100 grams of carbohydrate
•Within the next 2–3 hours after exercise: 100 grams of carbohydrate
•Every 4 hours thereafter: 100 grams of carbohydrate
•In practical terms, 75–100 grams of carbohydrate is equivalent to eating:
◦A banana and a bagel
◦1⁄2 cup of raisins and a slice of bread
◦2 cups of orange juice and a cup of yogurt
Nutrient Update: Although this article’s original focus was on glycogen and hydration, it’s important to recognize the value of adding protein to your meals. Chocolate milk is one popular example of a protein/carbohydrate beverage used for recovery, discussed here. For an even more specific discussion of protein, including type, dosing, and timing, see Protein Needs for Athletes, from which the following excerpt is derived:
“The National Strength and Conditioning Association recommends athletes consume 1.5 to 2.0 g/kg of body weight of protein to ensure adequate protein intake. Athletes involved in moderate amounts of intense training (2 – 3 times per week for 30 – 45 minutes per session) should consume levels at the lower end of this range (110 – 130 grams/day for a 75kg athlete) while athletes involved in high volume intense training should consume levels at the upper end of this range (130– 150 grams/day for a 75kg athlete).”
Original Title: Sports Nutrition Primer
Author: Debra Wein, MS, RD, LDN, NSCA-CPT
Publication: NSCA Performance Training Journal. 4(1): 5-6, 2005.