Fueling the Engine. A compilation of resources regarding nutrition and hydration.

posted March 1st 2014

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Eating Before Exercise – Foods for Athletic Competition

Meal planning and eating before athletic competition

By Elizabeth Quinn, About.com
Updated: October 28, 2008
About.com Health’s Disease and Condition content is reviewed by the Medical Review Board

What an athlete consumes before, during and after exercise is important for comfort and performance during exercise. While eating soon before exercise doesn’t provide the bulk of the fuel needed for the activity, it can prevent the distracting symptoms of hunger during exercise. The major source of fuel for active muscles is carbohydrate which gets stored in the muscles as glycogen in the days before exercise. This is one reason that the post-exercise meal is critical to recovery and being ready for the next exercise session.

When To Eat

Exercising on a full stomach is not ideal. Food that remains in your stomach during an event may cause stomach upset, nausea, and cramping. To make sure you have enough energy, yet reduce stomach discomfort, you should allow a meal to fully digest before the start of the event. This generally takes 1 to 4 hours, depending upon what and how much you’ve eaten. Everyone is a bit different, and you should experiment prior to workouts to determine what works best for you.

If you have an early morning race or workout, it’s best to get up early enough to eat your pre-exercise meal. If not, you should try to eat or drink something easily digestible about 20 to 30 minutes before the event. The closer you are to the time of your event, the less you should eat. You can have a liquid meal closer to your event than a solid meal because your stomach digests liquids faster.

What To Eat

Because glucose is the preferred energy source for most exercise, a pre-exercise meal should include foods that are high in carbohydrates and easy to digest. This include foods such as pasta, fruits, breads, energy bars and drinks.

Planning

Planning is essential if you are competing in an all-day event, such as track meets or other tournaments. Consider the time of your event, the amount of your meal and the energy required. Also, be aware of the amount of fluid you consume. You should plan ahead and prepare meals and snacks that you have tried before and know will sit well with you. Do not experiment with something new on the event day.

Suggested Pre-Exercise Foods

Eating before exercise is something only the athlete can determine based upon experience, but some general guidelines include eating a solid meal 4 hours before exercise, a snack or a high carbohydrate energy drink 2 to 3 hours before exercise, and fluid replacement (sports drink) 1 hour before exercise.

1 hour or less before competition

  • fruit or vegetable juice such as orange, tomato, or V-8, and/or fresh fruit such as apples, watermelon, peaches, grapes, or oranges and/or
  • Energy gels
  • up to 1 1/2 cups of a sports drink.

2 to 3 hours before competition

  • fresh fruit
  • fruit or vegetable juices
  • bread, bagels
  • low-fat yogurt
  • sports drink

3 to 4 hours before competition

  • fresh fruit
  • fruit or vegetable juices
  • bread, bagels
  • pasta with tomato sauce
  • baked potatoes
  • energy bar
  • cereal with low-fat milk
  • low-fat yogurt
  • toast/bread with limited peanut butter, lean meat, or low-fat cheese
  • 30 oz of a sports drink

Sugar and Performance

If you are an endurance athlete, evidence suggests that eating some sugar (like energy bars, some types of candy bars, or sports drinks) 35 to 40 minutes before an event may provide energy (glucose) to your exercising muscles when your other energy stores have dropped to low levels. However, you should experiment with such strategies before competition because some people do not perform well after a blood glucose spike.

Caffeine and Performance

Caffeine acts as a stimulant on the central nervous system. It had been thought to boost endurance by stimulating a greater use of fat for energy, and thereby reserving glycogen in the muscles. Research, however, doesn’t support that theory. When caffeine improves endurance, it does so by acting as a stimulant. Caffeine can have serious side effects for some people. Those who are very sensitive to its effects may experience nausea, muscle tremors, and headaches. Too much caffeine is a diuretic, and can result in dehydration, which decreases performance.

Foods to Avoid Before Exercise

Any foods with a lot of fat can be very difficult and slow to digest and remain in the stomach a long time. They also will pull blood into the stomach to aid in digestion, which can cause cramping and discomfort. Meats, doughnuts, fries, potato chips, and candy bars should be avoided in a pre-exercise meal. Keep in mind that everyone is a bit different and what works for you may not work for you teammate or training partner. Factor in individual preferences and favorite foods, and an eating plan is a highly individualize thing.

Sources:

The Position Statement from the Dietitians of Canada, the American Dietetic Association, and the American College of Sports Medicine, Canadian Journal of Dietetic Practice and Research in the Winter of 2000, 61(4):176-192.

Res, P., Ding, Z., Witzman, M.O., Sprague, R.C. and J. L. Ivy. The effect of carbohydrate-protein supplementation on endurance performance during exercise of varying intensity. International Journal of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism.

Levenhagen DK, Carr C, Carlson MG, Maron DJ, Borel MJ, Flakoll PJ. Post exercise protein intake enhances whole-body and leg protein accretion in human. Medicine and Science in Sports & Exercise. 2002 May; 34(5): 828-37.

water

What to Drink for Proper Hydration During Exercise

How much water or sports drink is needed for proper hydration during exercise

By Elizabeth Quinn, About.com Guide
Updated April 15, 2011
About.com Health’s Disease and Condition content is reviewed by the Medical Review Board

Staying hydrated is essential for everyone, but athletes have an even greater need to maintain proper hydration. Water is the most important nutrient for life and has many important functions including regulating temperature, lubricating joints and transporting nutrients and waste throughout the body.

Hydration During Exercise

Staying hydrated is particularly important during exercise. Adequate fluid intake is essential to comfort, performance and safety. The longer and more intensely you exercise, the more important it is to drink the right kind of fluids.

Dehydration Decreases Performance

Studies have found that athletes who lose as little as two percent of their body weight through sweating have a drop in blood volume which causes the heart to work harder to circulate blood. A drop in blood volume may also lead to muscle cramps, dizziness, fatigue and heat illness including heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

Common Causes of Dehydration In Athletes

  • Inadequate fluid intake
  • Excessive sweating
  • Failure to replace fluid losses during and after exercise
  • Exercising in dry, hot weather
  • Drinking only when thirsty

Hydration Needs for Athletes

Because there is wide variability in sweat rates, losses and hydration levels of individuals, it is nearly impossible to provide specific recommendations or guidelines about the type or amount of fluids athletes should consume.Finding the right amount of fluid to drink depends upon a variety of individual factors including the length and intensity of exercise and other individual differences. There are, however, two simple methods of estimating adequate hydration:

  • Monitoring urine volume output and color. A large amount of light colored, diluted urine probably means you are hydrated; dark colored, concentrated urine probably means you are dehydrated.
  • Weighing yourself before and after exercise. Any weight lost is likely from fluid, so try to drink enough to replenish those losses. Any weight gain could mean you are drinking more than you need.
  • How Athletes Lose Water

    • High altitude. Exercising at altitude increases your fluid losses and therefore increases you fluid needs.
    • Temperature. Exercising in the heat increases you fluid losses through sweating and exercise in the cold can impair you ability to recognize fluid losses and increase fluid lost through respiration. In both cases it is important to hydrate.
    • Sweating. Some athletes sweat more than others. If you sweat a lot you are at greater risk for dehydration. Again, weigh yourself before and after exercise to judge sweat loss.
    • Exercise Duration and Intensity. Exercising for hours (endurance sports) means you need to drink more and more frequently to avoid dehydration.

    To find the correct balance of fluids for exercise, the American College Of Sports Medicine suggests that “individuals should develop customized fluid replacement programs that prevent excessive (greater than 2 percent body weight reductions from baseline body weight) dehydration. The routine measurement of pre- and post-exercise body weights is useful for determining sweat rates and customized fluid replacement programs. Consumption of beverages containing electrolytes and carbohydrates can help sustain fluid-electrolyte balance and exercise performance.”

    According to the Institute of Medicine the need for carbohydrate and electrolytes replacement during exercise depends on exercise intensity, duration, weather and individual differences in sweat rates. [They write, "fluid replacement beverages might contain ~20–30 meqILj1 sodium (chloride as the anion), ~2–5 meqILj1 potassium and ~5–10% carbohydrate."] Sodium and potassium are to help replace sweat electrolyte losses, and sodium also helps to stimulate thirst. Carbohydrate provides energy for exercise over 60-90 minutes. This can also be provided through energy gels, bars, and other foods.

    What about Sports Drinks?

    Sports drinks can be helpful to athletes who are exercising at a high intensity for 60 minutes or more. Fluids supplying 60 to 100 calories per 8 ounces helps to supply the needed calories required for continuous performance. It’s really not necessary to replace losses of sodium, potassium and other electrolytes during exercise since you’re unlikely to deplete your body’s stores of these minerals during normal training. If, however, you find yourself exercising in extreme conditions over 3 or 5 hours (a marathon, Ironman or ultramarathon, for example) you may likely want to add a complex sports drink with electrolytes.

    General Guidelines for Fluid Needs During Exercise

    While specific fluid recommendations aren’t possible due to individual variability, most athletes can use the following guidelines as a starting point, and modify their fluid needs accordingly.

    Hydration Before Exercise

    • Drink about 15-20 fl oz, 2-3 hours before exercise
    • Drink 8-10 fl oz 10-15 min before exercise

    Hydration During Exercise

    • Drink 8-10 fl oz every 10-15 min during exercise
    • If exercising longer than 90 minutes, drink 8-10 fl oz of a sports drink (with no more than 8 percent carbohydrate) every 15 – 30 minutes.

    Hydration After Exercise

    • Weigh yourself before and after exercise and replace fluid losses.
    • Drink 20-24 fl oz water for every 1 lb lost.
    • Consume a 4:1 ratio of carbohydrate to protein within the 2 hours after exercise to replenish glycogen stores.

    Hyponatremia – Drinking Too Much Water

    Although rare, athletes can drink too much water and suffer from hyponatremia (water intoxication). Drinking excessive amounts of water can cause a low concentration of sodium in the blood – a serious medical emergency.

    Sources

    Consensus Statement of the 1st International Exercise-Associated Hyponatremia Consensus Development Conference, Cape Town, South Africa 2005. Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine. 15(4):208-213, July 2005.

    Exercise and Fluid Replacement, ACSM Position Stand, American College Of Sports Medicine, Medicine and Science In Sports & Exercise, 2007.

    Institute of Medicine. Water. In: Dietary Reference Intakes for Water, Sodium, Cholride, Potassium and Sulfate, Washington, D.C: National Academy Press, pp. 73–185, 2005

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