Adequately fueling athletes isn’t a matter of merely feeding them more, but of feeding them better — every day.
The benefits of a balanced diet are cumulative, meaning an athlete needs a good, healthy diet every day, not just on the day of a competition or sporting event, says Stephanie Bouquet, a clinical dietitian at Community Hospital and certified specialist in sports dietetics.
With her special training, Bouquet develops safe and effective nutrition strategies for athletes and other active people to enhance their health and help them achieve their best performance.
Stephanie Bouquet, Community Hospital
clinical dietitian and certified specialist in
“A balanced diet includes wholesome carbohydrates, such as whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, not refined sugar,” Bouquet says. “Your body is like a car; carbohydrates are the fuel, the gas that keeps it going to feed your muscles and your brain. The biggest mistake athletes make is cutting down on carbohydrates, which can hamper performance.”
Many athletes tend to consider protein most important, but carbohydrates are actually more important, she says.
But, because protein helps repair and maintain muscles, the body does need some, just not as much as people think.
“The goal,” she says, “is to incorporate a little bit of protein every time you eat, whether it is a meal or a snack.
Combining carbohydrates with a little protein from lean animal or plant sources (beans, nuts, and low-fat dairy products, along with carbohydrates, for example), will balance out the blood sugar, keep the athlete fueled, and help maintain lean, athletic muscles.”
Fluids are the third essential ingredient. Bouquet recommends that athletes weigh themselves before and after exercise to determine weight loss through sweat. For every pound the scale drops, the athlete should rehydrate with 16 ounces of water. Those who exercise continuously for more than an hour should supplement their fluid intake with an electrolyte replacement drink.
Recreational athletes, however, only need water for hydration, Bouquet says.
“Recreational athletes also need to remember that it is a fallacy to believe that because they are exercising, they can or should eat more than usual,” she says. “If they are not exercising more than an hour a day, they need a balanced diet but not an increased amount of food. Conversely, serious athletes putting in many hours or more than one training session per day need to feed themselves as often as every 2 to 3 hours, with balanced snacks and small meals.”
Perhaps most important, says Bouquet, is realizing that what works for one person may not work for another.
“It is essential,” she says, “that we each find the balance that serves us best.”