As a registered dietitian for the past 20+ years, I’ve received some very odd and interesting questions about fueling for sports! Most questions, though, are centered around the same topics, and below, I answer the five nutrition questions any beginner athlete should ask. It’s important to remember that one size does not fit all, however. What is appropriate diet and fueling wise for one might not be for another. Age, gender, sport, hours spent training, goals, and health history are all factors that can dictate your individual needs.
Should I Eat Before a Morning Workout?
Most likely, yes! It’s crucial to supply your working muscles the fuel they need to perform. If your workout is 30 minutes or less and low intensity, you will likely be okay without a morning snack. But, if your workout is >30 minutes or intense, you will benefit from topping off your stores after a night of fasting. You don’t need to consume much: 25 grams of simple carbohydrate is a good goal. This might be one banana, a slice of toast with 1 TBSP jam, ½ of a sports bar, or 16 oz of sports drink.
What Do I Eat After a Workout to Recover Best?
If you are someone who does multiple workouts in a day or is training intensely for an event, the best post-workout recovery regimen includes simple carbohydrates and proteins (ideally in a 4:1 or 3:1 ratio) within 30 minutes of finishing your workout. There are many commercial recovery drinks on the market, or even 8-16 oz of chocolate milk can do the trick! For athletes doing shorter, less intense workouts once a day, a specific recovery drink may not be necessary as long as you consume a high-quality diet overall.
Do I REALLY Need Carbohydrates In My Diet?
You sure do! Carbohydrate is the preferred fuel source for working muscles and your brain, especially crucial in workouts greater in duration than 60 minutes or with intensity. Use simple sugars during training and more complex carbohydrates throughout the day outside of training. Whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, and dairy can be good sources of carbohydrates rich in vitamins, minerals, and fiber. The more hours you train, the greater your carbohydrate needs!
What Are My Hydration Needs?
A good rule of thumb for baseline hydration needs is to divide your weight (in pounds) in half and drink that amount of water in ounces per day. For example, a 150 pound person would need to drink 75 ounces of water each day. However, this does NOT include the fluid consumed during training or fluid consumed after training to replenish your losses. You must replace this fluid in addition to your baseline needs. Immediately after training sessions, you should aim to drink 16 oz of fluid for every one pound lost during training.
Do I Need Any Supplements?
You might. A “food first” approach is always recommended. This concept prioritizes nutrient-dense foods over supplements with the idea that we metabolize nutrients more efficiently from food versus a pill. That said, many athletes, especially those following diets that minimize or eliminate certain food groups (i.e., vegans, food allergies, etc.), may need additional support from supplements that their diets cannot provide. In addition, several performance-enhancing supplements may offer considerable benefits, such as caffeine, nitrates, beta-alanine, and protein. It is best to discuss supplement use with a registered dietitian to assure you are taking a safe, indicated regimen!
As you begin your endurance sports journey these are the five Nutrition questions any beginner athlete should ask as they’ll set you up for success.