Whether it's the serious athlete or the casual calisthenics cohort, fitness
aficionados are always searching for that something extra to give them
the competitive edge or sculpt their muscles a la Hercules. Slick media
ads and paid endorsements by celebrity athletes tout fancily-packaged
nutrition products as the answer to the athlete's quest...but, is it really?
Can you find the competitive edge in a box? Or, is the answer in one of
those new fangled versions of a high protein diet? And what about those
sports drinks? Read on to discover how to enhance your performance no
matter what your sport. A sound nutrition program just may be your ace
Food Fuels the Moves:
Glycogen is the preferred fuel for working muscles, whether you are running
around the Reservoir or running a relay race. Glycogen stores in the body
are derived from a carbohydrate-rich diet containing grains, vegetables,
legumes and fruit. Even if you are trying to burn stored fat, the body
still needs some carbohydrate from food. Scientific recommendations suggest
carbohydrate calories comprise 60-65% of our diet. Translated, that means
over half our calories should be fruits, vegetables, legumes ( like chickpeas,
lentils, kidney beans) and grains ( like rice, cereal, bread, crackers,
pasta). Accomplish this daily balance by having these carbohydrate choices
take up 3/4 of your plate at each meal. The other 1/4 of the plate is
for protein. Careful to go easy on fried or sauce-laden versions of otherwise
lean foods and you'll be batting 1,000.
Is Protein Power?
Much had been made lately of high protein diets and athletic performance.
Athletes do require an increased amount of protein than do their couch
potato counterparts, but the increase is only slight. The Recommended
Dietary Allowance (RDA) for protein is 0.8 gm/ kg body weight/ day. Bodybuilders
and endurance athletes need 1.2-1.5gm/kg body weight/day. Translated into
animal protein portions, that means that while most of us get by with
5-7 oz of a protein source/day, athletes need another 2-4 oz/ day. A 3-4
oz portion of animal protein looks like the size of a deck of cards. Hardly
the need for a steak-and-eggs breakfast.
Excess protein does not contribute to performance and may even have
detrimental health and performance effects A high protein diet puts a
strain on kidneys and hydration balance. Excess protein intake leading
to excess calorie intake can lead to fat gain, taking an athlete from
excellent to ordinary. Amino acid pills, powders and potions that tout
5,000 mg of protein ( read 5 gm!) really contain less protein than 1 oz
of animal protein or plant protein equivalent. You'll go the extra mile
getting your protein right from an original food source.
Athletes trying to bulk up and build muscle must first supply their
bodies with adequate calories, the limiting factor in muscle deposition.
In most cases, if calorie needs are being met so are protein needs. It
is training, fueled by a high carbohydrate, balanced diet, that builds
muscle strength and size.
Hit a Hydration Home Run
Dehydration has adverse effects on muscle coordination, endurance and
is often responsible for early fatigue. Drinking plenty of water before,
during and after exercise is a slam-dunk performance enhancer. Current
guidelines suggest 8-16 oz fluid 30-60 minutes before exercise and 4-8
oz every 15 minutes during exercise. You owe your body 16 oz water for
every one pound weight loss occurring during exercise. Weigh yourself
before and after exercise and pay up on your water debt quickly. Special
sports drinks containing 4-7% carbohydrate have been shown to be beneficial
for exercise lasting over one hour. The carbohydrate and the water exert
independent benefits to the exercising body. Don't wait for thirst or
dehydration will already be compromising your work-out. Drink early and
a schedule, with or without thirst. You don't want to end up a bench warmer.
Ergogenic Aids: Penalty Box or Three-Pointer?
Nutritional ergogenic aids are the trendy way to try and boost energy
and performance, but are they safe? Do they really work? So far, the likes
of bee pollen, ginseng, royal jelly, carnitine, Coenzyme Q10 and a host
of others have failed to have their ergogenic claims substantiated by
If you consider taking the next magic bullet, make sure you've done
your homework before kick off and ask yourself these questions:
- does it sound too good to be true? Don't leave a pill promoter laughing
all the way to the bank. If it sounds too good to be true, it usually
is. Enhance performance takes training & hard work, not three little
pills a day.
- is there published scientific evidence on humans? Labels claiming
"university tested", testimonials, anecdotes or one study
on hamsters does not qualify as scientific evidence. Investigate further
than the slick ad when you are considering a product. Dietary supplements
are regulated as food, not pharmaceuticals, and hence do not undergo
the rigorous testing and safety checks you might imagine.
- what are the credentials of the product promoter? Are they qualified
with appropriate academics or just an "expert" because of
their current association with the product. Don't hesitate to ask; it's
- how does the nutrition label compare to the product's couch potato
counterpart? Many sports bars contain more calories than the same size
candy bar. Some gels are the nutrition equivalent of a fistful of gummy
bears. Some products are high in fat, which is slow to leave the stomach;
a heavy gut is the last thing you need when exercising. Snack on bite-size
cereal, fresh or dried fruit, or a cup of low fat yogurt when you need
- Some supplements improve performance because of the placebo effect;
they provide a psychological or physiological benefit. While many such
products have little negative effect, other than your empty wallet,
be cautious to avoid the dangers of relying on nutritional supplements
in place of a sound nutrition program.
What's in it for you?
Whether you are looking to shave seconds off your time, serve more aces
or are just beginning an exercise program, nutrition is a key player in
enhancing your performance.
A high carbohydrate diet is the fuel of choice for exercising muscles.Inadequate
carbohydrate intake and insufficient hydration can lead to stale work-outs
where your legs feel like lead and you dream of a nap. Adequate daily
energy is essential before protein can perform its magic. Set your own
training table by filling your plate 3/4 full with carbohydrates ( starches,
fruits, vegetables, legumes) and the other 1/4 with protein foods. Avoid
faddish nutritional supplements. Take the lead and drink plenty of water
or sports drinks, especially when you exercise for over an hour.
Good, old-fashioned balance eating together with training and rest are
the real performance enhancers. You won't find the competitive edge waiting
for you in a box at the health food store.