By Jim on Monday, May 3, 2010
TOP 10 NUTRITIONAL MISTAKES MADE BY ATHLETES
by James Skitt - 09.11.09
Athletes regularly refine and revise their training programmes and plans in order to fully maximise training adaptations and improve their performance, however some make crucial mistakes with their nutritional choices and eating patterns which can often reduce the benefits this can bring.
Jeni Pearce, a Performance Nutritionist at the English Institute of Sport (EIS), outlines her Top 10 most common nutritional mistakes made by athletes and suggests steps which can be taken to avoid them...
1. Skipping breakfast
Jeni says: “This often leaves athletes hungrier later in the morning, making weight control a greater struggle and achieving body composition targets harder.
It also fails to provide additional fuel for any morning training sessions -especially as the athletes may not have eaten for 8-12 hours and blood glucose levels could be low - and does not increase the body’s metabolic rate due to the energy cost of digesting and absorbing food and nutrients.
Breakfast should contain some carbohydrate, protein and fluids, while some athletes may need two breakfast sittings to consume all the nutrients they need, especially for hard morning trainings (one small breakfast before and a larger breakfast after the session).”
2. Not eating before a workout
Jeni says: “Fuelling the body with energy prior to a workout is beneficial to provide fuel so that muscle glycogen stores last longer, allowing athletes to train harder, feel less fatigued and not to feel hungry during a training session.
The timing of the snack or meal will depend on the individual athlete’s preference and the training session, but you should allow more time for high intensity sessions. Keep foods familiar and remember to include fluids.”
3. Waiting too long after exercise to eat
Jeni says: “Athletes should consume some carbohydrate and protein within 2 hours of a workout to help refuel energy stores in muscle, maximise insulin responses and training adaptations and to help prepare them for their next training session. This becomes even more essential if the next major meal is delayed.
Fluids should also be part of an athletes nutrition strategy post work out. After hard sessions in particular some athletes lose their appetite making eating a struggle. Sports drinks and liquid meals such as milk based smoothies or soups are good options if this occurs.”
4. Replacing meals with energy bars and drinks
Jeni says: “Energy bars are designed to refuel muscle stores with carbohydrate and many also contain high levels of protein. They are not designed as a meal replacement, rather a convenient snack for a limited number of nutrients, and are unsuitable for people who are performing very light training or very limited activity.
Some bars may contain the same energy values as a sandwich, fruit or fruit juice. Read the labels of bars carefully as some are protein only and may not be suitable in recovery where replacing glycogen stores is the main goal.”
5. Eating too much protein and not enough carbohydrate
Jeni says: “The popularity of protein and low carbohydrate diets has resulted in some athletes including protein at the expense of carbohydrate in their diets.
Carbohydrates are important for all forms of exercise as it is the body’s preferred fuel. The key is to balance this with the activity performed and to also include protein, which is not an effective energy source but is important for tissue repair, replacement and metabolic responses.
It is not a case of one at the expense of the other, both are needed.”
6. Trusting the accuracy of dietary supplements labels and claims
Jeni says: “Despite changes by some supplement companies to improve safety and accuracy of marketing claims, many products remain unregulated, with claims unproven or with little or no research performed on them.
Athletes are advised that they are ultimately responsible for any supplement they consume and should always seek professional advice from a Performance Nutritionist or Sports Dietician if they are at all unsure.”
7. Not consuming the right amount of calories (energy) for the amount of activity done
Jeni says: “Matching energy intake to support training, daily life, growth and repair is a skill and intakes must be adjusted for tapering for competitions, injury or surgery, high intensity training bouts and endurance sessions.
Failure to match intake with changing needs could results in undesirable weight gain (fat mass) or loss (reductions in lean tissue –muscle).”
8. Believing that exercise means you can eat what ever you want.
Jeni says: “The benefit of exercise is often the ability to consume more total energy and a higher metabolic rate. However, quality and quantity is just as important.
Exercise does not allow an athlete to eat large amounts of high fat or treat foods as this could compromise recovery and further training sessions. Training may mean athletes need to eat more healthy foods and nutrients to support their immunity, recovery and additional stresses placed on the body.
Exercise is often used as an excuse to justify poor eating patterns by athletes.”
9. Not drinking the right amount of fluids
Jeni says: “Athletes should monitor changes in their body weight (replace 1.2-1.5x losses) regularly during training and events.
In hot humid environments especially, dehydration can be a serious concern, particularly for those athletes who sweat heavily, those performing for long periods, or athletes who are acclimatising to a hotter environment or going to altitude.
Sports drinks containing sodium are more suitable than water in these situations and athletes should take care not to over hydrate or gain weight due to excess fluid in training and competitions.”
10. Jumping on the latest diet craze in search of the elusive ‘edge’
Jeni says: “Athletes are understandably keen to take on the latest information to gain a performance advantage. At times however, this may be at the expense of more trusted and reliable practices or strategies.
There are no magic formulas or practices that will dramatically boost performance, produce an increase in lean mass or amazing weight loss, whilst some practices may actually lead to a decrease in performance or have undesirable side effects.
The best advice is to follow sound and tested well recognised sports nutrition practices and seek professional guidance for individual fine tuning. Athletes should never try anything new or not tested in training during a competition or event.”