The following information comes from three main sources: Running Research News & Peak Performance Bulletin (both written by exercise physiologists) and the Sports Nutrition Guidebook by Nancy Clark, arguably the most noted and knowledgeable Registered Dietician around. I am not a dietician or physiologist. I defer to the experts. I give support to these sources before I ever will support pseudo-science, non-expert advice, advertisements or solely anecdotally supported information. Always take with a grain of salt any information from any source in which they have stake in your opinion or action (i.e. purchase).
These are selected points I have researched from questions asked of me on a regular basis over the years. Caveat: these guidelines are in reference to the average healthy person and of course do not replace a medical opinion. If you have a medically diagnosed deficiency then follow your medical provider’s advice! For the rest fo us… read on.
Dieting & Weight Loss
Eat breakfast! If you were ever to skip any meal (which is not recommended) it should be dinner. One source stated the principle as “fuel by day fast by night”. Cereals are your best bet for breakfast. Eat 4-6 smaller portioned meals during the day – just be careful not to increase your total calories while doing this.
To be an athlete trying to lose weight is tricky. You must have sufficient calories to fuel your workouts. If you skimp too much, you will not complete workouts or not be able to complete them at the appropriate intensities and therefore lose conditioning and burn fewer calories. The most important element is to maintain high carbohydrate intake. This is the fuel for your muscles. Contrary to so many diet fads and pseudo-experts, it does not make fat. Excess calories make you fat; especially excess fat calories make you fat. Also, eating in the two to three hours before bedtime lends itself to making you fat. A couple hours after hitting the sack hormones are secreted to aid in recovery and repair of your body. Another downside to eating before bedtime is that insulin is secreted in response to the food. Insulin suppresses those very hormones that aid in your recovery! Even so, given all this, if weight is truly an issue, you will have to reduce calories to be effective in your weight loss. Evidence shows that by solely adding exercise, it is not as effective a way to reduce weight. You need to reduce total calories first; eliminate junk calories; decrease fat calories; create a calorie defitcit over the 24 hour period.
Athletes (active people) need 55-65% of their diets made up of carbohydrates. Drop fat and hidden fats. It takes less body energy to store fat therefore fat gets stored faster and easier.
Post Workout Nutrition
Depending on your body size; ingest 300 calories of carbs in first 30 minutes after workout. After very exhausting workouts (i.e. those 20 mile runs) repeat this (300 in 30) pattern for up to 4 hours! There may be some benefit to consuming a small amount of protein at this time as well.
If you need to get ready for another hard effort in a short time (racing several events in a day) then high glycemic indexed carbs may be best.
The general goal for a diet is about 20-25% fat. No research to date shows that burning fat during exercise results in losing body fat! Though the rate of fat burning slightly increases at certain slower paces, it is a myth that there is any benefit. It does not yield body weight or body fat reduction, it does not affect (positively) energy for the workout significantly (carbohydrate intake does).
Simple versus Complex Carbs
Kenyan diets are as much as 78% carbohydrates and 22% is from simple sugar! Eating lots of sugar does not lead to diabetes; being unfit and overweight does.
During and immediately prior to exercise; complex or simple carbohydrates and arguably even the glycemic index are not good indicators of the consumption-energy delivery link. Several research indicate that despite some changes in blood sugar levels – while exercising – there is no performance difference; which is what we really care about!
Now here’s an interesting tidbit from Owen Anderson Ph. D. Researchers have been able to show that athletes who merely utilize a carb-containing mouth rinse prior to exercise (without swallowing any of the carb-containing fluid) perform significantly better during a one-hour time trial, compared to those who avoid the carb rinse-out. The proposed mechanism for this seemingly phenomenon is that the throat contains receptors which can sense the presence of carbohydrate in the mouth – and that these receptors signal a sort of central governor in the brain which shifts exercise intensity into a higher gear once it is assured that carbohydrate will be available.
Excess protein does not aid in building muscle strength, size or recovery. Exercise (weight lifting, etc.) builds muscle. There is no support whatsoever that this additional protein (regardless of form) builds muscle mass. There are very few higher-protein need athletes (vegetarians being one of them). It is difficult to pinpoint exact protein requirements but in the end it is moot. Here is the great news – don’t do anything different. We (with the typical US diets) already consume far more than the minimum needed – even for the most active of athletes.
And since we are on the protein topic. Accelerade advertises 29% more endurance with their specially formulated carbohydrate + protein replacement drink. Well, researchers looked into this one. The conclusion is that the 29% more endurance was not due to protein at all but just the extra calories. Drinks of equal caloric value which were 100% carbs resulted in statistically the same results. And of course they both out performed a placebo drink.
A multivitamin won’t hurt you. It is unclear if it helps if you already have a decent diet. It does not compensate for a high-fat, low-fiber, unbalanced diet. Do not use any supplement with excessive dosages of vitamins or minerals. They can cause imbalances in your body. The exception is if your physician has diagnosed a condition in which you are deficient or need supplements as part of a treatment. Neither “natural” nor chelated supplements offer any advantages. Supplements yield expensive urine and little more. Some anti-oxidants and other minerals do appear to do what they purport however, they are not what we consider an “ergogenic” aid… something that actually aids running performance. All other advice is anecdotal and fraught with complicating issues (with the bottom-line of getting your money to their bottom-line). The best advice: When thinking supplements, think food first.
If you don’t like, don’t agree or just want to disregard what I have presented here, don’t shoot the messenger. I present to you the facts as provided by the preponderance of science. When the research finds something different, I will change with it. I have no stake in this other than not to waste my (or others for that matter) time, energy and money.
If you have dietary concerns, we have an excellent dietician who specializes in athletes. Go to the website or contact one of the coaches for a referral.