Athletes have more at stake than non-athletes when it comes to making decisions about the food they eat. Not only do they need the right kinds of substances for good health, they also need them for good performance. Nevertheless, they make nutritional mistakes.
Kristine Clark, Ph.D., R.D., a sports nutrition expert at Penn State says, “All of their lives, athletes have been told that 55-60 percent of their calories should come from carbohydrates; but what they hear is that 55-60 percent of their calories should come from starchy carbohydrates. We try to make them understand that carbohydrates are found in four of the five food groups. Few athletes think of fruits, vegetables and dairy products as sources of carbohydrates. Consequently, athletes over-consume starches.”
Another misconception is that fat is bad. Some athletes feel almost superior if they survive on a fat-free diet. This practice is counterproductive. Fat is an essential nutrient. If you don’t eat some fat, there is a strong possibility that total calories will be inadequate. When carbohydrates are the only nutrient consumed, there may not be enough calories from carbohydrates left over to make glycogen.
“Athletes worry about other things that they shouldn’t be concerned with,” continues Clark. “One example is red meat, especially among women athletes. Red meat, eaten in appropriate amounts, is a source of protein and other nutrients.”
“Many serious exercisers are pre-occupied with the mistaken need for dietary supplements. While supplements may be appropriate if a person is not getting 100 percent of the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) in certain food groups, I spend too much time answering questions about things like garlic, ginseng, herbs, creatine and protein supplements. In most cases, these substances are simply not necessary for good nutrition or to enhance performance.”
Pre-game and post-game nutrition has always been an issue among athletes. Clark warns them about the mistake of not consuming enough fluids. “Athletes should take in fluids before, during and after strenuous or extended exercise. They should also eat a balanced meal about four hours before competition plus a pre-game snack about an hour before game time.”
“Don’t wait too long after a game to eat,” she concludes. “Take in carbohydrate-rich foods within two hours after intense exercise. It doesn’t matter whether you eat solids or drink liquids. After an exercise period, you can eat almost anything you want. Sports drinks and juices are good for rehydration as well as providing carbohydrates.”
Look for carbohydrates in four of the five food groups.
Don’t totally exclude fat from your diet.
Eat red meats in moderate amounts as a source of protein and other nutrients.
Use supplements only if you are not getting 100 percent of the RDA in specific food groups.
Drink fluids before, during and after exercise periods.
Eat a balanced meal about four hours before game time.
Eat high carbohydrate foods within two hours after an event.