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by ADMIN on OCTOBER 19, 2011

There are two main reasons why an athlete or exercise-buff may not eat before exercising:

  • Because they want to burn more fat; or

  • Because foods may sit ‘like a rock’ in their stomach while exercising, causing discomfort or nausea.

Let’s tackle the first point. Does working out hungry cause you to burn more fat? In fact, this is false. Multiple studies have come out showing that the body burns roughly the same amount of fat regardless of whether you eat before a workout.

However, the body burns up to 10% more protein when exercising on an empty stomach.

What does that mean? Basically the body is using more protein – from your muscles! – to fuel your workout. This could lead to the body losing muscle mass. Also, without fuel to aid your workout, you may not be able to workout as hard or as long, which reduces your calorie burn.

Seems to go against the whole point of not eating before a workout, doesn’t it?

As an added bonus, another study demonstrated that athletes who ate a pre-workout meal ended up eating less throughout the remainder of the day. Excellent!

Bottom line: Fueling up before a workout really does benefit not only your workout, but also your calorie burn and how much you eat for the rest of the day.

Furthermore, eating before working out can help to:

  • Settle your stomach by absorbing some gastric juices;

  • Prevent hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) and its symptoms of lightheadedness, fatigue, and indecisiveness – which can all lead to poor performance;

  • Fuel your muscles for a great workout.

So what should I eat before working out?

The most important guideline is to concentrate on eating low fat, low protein meals or snacks made of primarily easy-to-digest carbohydrates.

Both fat and protein take a long time to break down and leave the stomach. This is great for during the day when you want to stay full and satisfied – but before a workout this could lead to a lot of GI distress and upset. Focusing on carbohydrates that are relatively low in fiber is key.

Examples of easy-to-digest carbohydrate snacks:

  • Pretzels or crackers

  • Toast or waffle with jam

  • Cereal with low fat milk

  • Yogurt (Not Greek, as this type of yogurt may have too much protein for your stomach to handle)

  • Fig newtons

  • Granola bar (low fat, low protein), such as Nature Valley Bars

  • Raisins, dates, or banana

  • Rice or pasta

The timing and type of food someone can handle varies from person to person. Some people can eat 5 minutes before a workout without a problem while others need to eat 60 minutes before a workout to ensure they don’t have stomach problems. Similarly, some people can handle a full serving of food while others can only put down a couple crackers or bites.

Most people feel good results after eating 0.5 grams of carbohydrates (about 2 calories) per pound of body weight (or 1 gram per kilogram) about one hour before a workout. As you get closer to the workout, you can reduce the amount that you eat for a snack to help prevent GI discomfort.

The best thing to do is to experiment with different fuels and timing to see what works best for you. If you have a tried-and-true food that you like to eat before working out or competition, then stick with it!

TIP: You have to train your body to accept fuel before, during, and after a workout, just like you have to train your body to run 5 miles.

When you try a food as fuel, try it several times, because your GI track may just need to be trained to digest the food before and during a workout. This is especially important to do if you are training for a big event, such as a marathon or triathlon. Practicing your fueling strategy during training is just as important as the exercise its self.

The goal is to comfortable with your eating plan (both mentally and physically!) going into your competition so that you can perform your best without GI distress.

Athletes need to sit down to the plate before they step up to the win!

by ADMIN on NOVEMBER 9, 2011

So you just finished your workout and your starving… what should you eat?!

First of all, I hope you ate something before your workout!

If you’re an avid daily (or bi-daily!) exerciser, providing your body with nutrients to recover is very important. This will help your body replenish glycogen stores (carbohydrates your body stores to use during exercise), repair and rebuild muscle, and help rehydrate.

In fact, your body is working its hardest and fastest to replenish glycogen stores within the 30 to 45 minutes after you finish a workout. During this time, it’s best to have a carbohydrate-rich snack with a smidge of protein. Protein actually helps your body store glycogen more efficiently.

Good Carbohydrate-Protein Combo Snacks:

  • Low fat or fat free chocolate milk (perfect carb-protein recovery fuel!)

  • A bowl of corn flakes with fat free or low fat milk

  • 8 oz orange juice and half a bagel

  • Low fat or fat free yogurt with a piece of fruit

  • A couple slices of turkey with a slice of whole grain bread

  • Low fat cottage cheese and fruit

  • Cheese and crackers

  • Pretzels and a bit of peanut butter

  • Commercial Recovery drink with a 3:1 or 4:1 ratio of carbs:protein

How much recovery fuel do you need?

  • Women: 150 – 200 calories

  • Men: 300 – 400 calories

Refueling right away speeds recovery and helps prepare your body for your next workout or competition. This is especially important when your working out again on the same day or within 24 hours. If you’re trying to build muscle, recovery fuel is also an important aspect of your diet.

However, if your next exercise or training session is more than 24 hours away, you don’t necessarily need to worry about eating within 30 minutes. Your body will be able to slowly and naturally build back up your glycogen stores over the next 24+ hours so that you’re ready to go!

One last benefit of a post-workout snack:

If your meal is more than an hour away, grab a granola bar or piece of fruit to munch on after your workout. This will help prevent you from getting too hungry before your next meal, which in turn helps to prevent overeating. Score!

by ADMIN on JUNE 21, 2012

Sports Drinks – they’re all the rage now. But are they worth it?

The short answer: Depending on when, why, and how you’re using them – Yes

When would sports drinks have NO benefit? If sports drinks are drunk during the day (not while exercising), they only add extra sugar and calories that your body simply doesn’t need. It’s best to stick with water during these times.

Also, if you’re working out less than 45 minutes, water is sufficient for good hydration. In fact, studies show that when exercising less than 30 minutes, fluid (water or otherwise) has no benefits to performance.

During exercise the body generates over 20 times more heat (energy) than at rest – and the only way to release the heat is through sweating. If you don’t have enough fluid in your system to help get rid of this excess energy, your body can over-heat quickly, resulting in poor performance, weakness, and dizziness.

So when it’s hot out, or you’re a heavy sweater, then you may lose a lot of your hydration. Even just 2% dehydration can decrease your performance.

The History

Sports drinks have been around since the 1960s when a Florida college football team, the Gators, went looking for a better way to hydrate their athletes in the hot, humid weather of the south. The coach approached a group of physicians at the college and explained his quest: To prevent the negative effects of heat-related illnesses he saw his athlete’s suffering from – and to help increase performance during games if possible.

The physicians came up with two primary reasons the athletes were declining in performance:

  1. Loss of electrolytes from excessive sweating,

  2. Depletion of muscle glycogen (stored form of carbohydrates), which leads to muscle fatigue and failure during long practices.

The result? A specially formulated drink with a mix of carbohydrates, sodium, and potassium – with a squeeze of lemon for flavor. After using this drink during practice and games, the Gators began winning almost all of their games in hot, humid conditions – and then went on to win the Orange Bowl in 1966 for the first year ever.

And what did they name the drink? Gatorade. After the team.

As you may have guessed, this drink went on to be the first sports drinks on the market and became the official sports drink of the National Football League in 1968.

The Science


In most sports, particularly cycling (Hermansen et al. 1967) and running (Williams 1998), the point of fatigue is closely linked to glycogen depletion in the exercising muscle. By both increasing muscle glycogen stores before exercise, as well as consuming carbohydrates during exercise enhances performance significantly – particularly in terms of maintaining a faster running and cycling speed and extending exercise time.

Studies have also found that carbohydrate sports drinks improve sprinting and delay fatigue of basketball players. Surprisingly, the players also sunk more baskets due to improved cognitive function and focus.

The amount of carbohydrate taken in is key. Too much and the gastrointestinal (GI) tract is overwhelmed, resulting in gas, bloating, or diarrhea. Ideally, men can take in about 50-90 grams of carbs per hour while women can take in about 35-60 grams per hour (total).

When to ingest carbohydrates is also important. Many studies also show that carbohydrate fueling should be started well before fatigue sets in – or it may be too late to gain benefits.

The type of carbohydrates consumed makes a big difference as well. Each type of sugar (glucose, sucrose, oligosaccharides, fructose) is absorbed via a different pathway in the intestines. If you take in too much of one type, the pathway gets overwhelmed and the rest of the sugar will just… come out (diarrhea!). So taking in a mixture of sugars is best since more will be absorbed (each via a different pathway). Interestingly, Fructose takes much longer to digest and absorb, so drinking juice or other pure fructose-sweetened beverages may lead to stomach upset and other GI issues.

Another benefit: Ingestion of carbohydrates will actually help your body absorb more water.


Along with water, sodium is also lost in sweat. This is the most important electrolyte when it comes to exercise.

Sodium, the most abundant cation, and chloride, the most abundant anion help with muscle contractions and nerve signaling (Salt is made up of NaCl, or Sodium Chloride). Without enough sodium, hyponatremia (the fancy work for low sodium) sets in, which can be very dangerous. Symptoms include nausea, disorientation, slurred speech, and confusion. Hydrating with water alone in a hot environment simply dilutes your sodium even further – causing more problems and potential heath issues. Not good for performance!

Sodium actually stimulates sugar and water absorption in the intestines and helps to maintain blood volume. It maintains blood volume by helping the body retain the fluids you drink – which in turn helps keep you hydrated for longer. While drinking only water can actually dehydrate you during extreme heat or long competitions/training. Without sodium, water is simply expelled by the body via urine and sweat.

Soft drinks contain virtually no sodium (1-2mmol/L) while sports drinks have about 30-90 mmol/L – an optimal amount to replenish normal sodium loss. If you’re a salty sweater (you can tell by how much salt is dried on your skin and cloths after a workout), you may even need salt tablets in a long distance race in addition to a sports drink. Talk to your coach to see if this is an appropriate option for you.

What about Coconut water? As you may have read in this article, coconut water is not the best sports drink for intense workouts lasting longer than 75 minutes. It simply doesn’t not have enough sodium to keep you well hydrated and performing your best.

Fluid Needs

The goal of hydration is to maintain body weight. On average, an athlete needs about 8-12 ounces of fluid every 15 minutes of exercise to maintain top performance and hydration.

Make sure you are well hydrated going into a competition or race. Check your pee! It should be a light yellow or clear. Drinking 8 ounce of fluids about 20 minutes before the race can also prime the intestines to be able to absorb more fluids during the race.

A Good Guide to your Fluid Needs:

Daily Fluid Needs: 30ml/kg

  1. (Your weight in pounds) / 2.2 = Kg body weight

  2. Kg x 30 = Total ml fluid needed per day

  3. (Total ml) / 240 = Number of cups you need to drink per day

Exercise Needs: (Added to your daily needs)

  1. Drink 2 cups 2 hours before exercise

  2. Drink 1 cup (8oz) 10 minutes before exercise

  3. Drink 1 cup every 15-20 minutes during exercise

* Weigh yourself before and after training/competition and for every pound you lost, drink 16 ounces (2 cups) of fluids.

Make Your Own

Don’t want to spend money on commercial drinks? You can make your own sports drinks with the right amount of sodium, potassium, and carbohydrates to fuel your workout.

Dawn Jackson Blatner, RD

3.5 cups water

1/2 cup orange juice

2.5 Tbsp honey

1/4 tsp salt

8oz: 50 calories, 14g cho, 160mg sodium

Nancy Clark, RD

1/4 cup sugar

1/4 tsp salt

1/4 cup hot water

1/4 cup orange juice (not concentrate)

2 Tbsp lemon juice

1.5 cups cold water

8oz: 50 calories, 12g CHO, 110mg sodium

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