5 Common Sports Nutrition Mistakes...and How to Get It Right

April 8, 2018


 Image courtesy of womensrunning.competitor.com



1. Not drinking enough water

Most athletes underestimate how much water they lose from their system when they exercise. Sweat is one indicator, but it isn't always all that reliable. For example, even on cold days, your body excretes water, just not as much as it does on a hot day. And, when you are swimming or perhaps training in the rain, you probably have no idea how much water is coming out of your system. Everyone is different, sweating at different rates, absorbing water at different rates, and able to tolerate different amounts of water in your stomach. But, pay attention to drinking water before, during and after exercise. 


How to get it right:

In the hour or two before exercise, aim to drink at least a pint of water (400-500ml). During exercise, aim to drink about half a cup of water (around 100ml) every 15 minutes. For longer sessions of 60 minutes or more, you'll want something more than water in your water bottle (see points 2 and 3 below). After exercise, keep drinking water at about the same rate, for at least an hour. 


2. Just putting water in your water bottle

When you sweat, what comes out of your body? Just water, alone? No. You also lose salt (sodium chloride), as well as some other trace minerals and some small amount of carbohydrates (yes, they get excreted in your sweat, too). For regular, sustained exercise, you need to maintain appropriate levels of salt, or your body will struggle to function normally (particularly areas driven by nervous impulses, such as your muscles, circulatory and endocrinal systems). It can be confusing, because there has been so much information out there encouraging people to consume no more than 4-5g of salt a day, or about a teaspoon. So, here we are, telling you to consume more salt, and you are wondering which advice to follow. 


How to get it right:

You can get a simple test done to see how much salt is in your sweat, but you can also start with an educated guess. The average for most people is that they sweat about 2.5g of salt (or about half a teaspoon) every hour. Yep, that's right, So, a half a teaspoon of salt in your water bottle (we can discuss palatability later) should keep your body functioning healthily during exercise. If you are training for an endurance event, such as a marathon, a cycle sportive or a triathlon, then you should probably get your sweat tested, just to make sure you are getting the right amount of salt. 


3. Not eating enough carbs

Yes, in our sedentary, daily lives, processed carbohydrates have been correctly identified as the common source of a lot of prevalent health issues. Simple truth is that when we are sitting at our desks, driving, watching TV, texting on the phone, or doing any sedentary activity our bodies don't burn very much in the way of carbohydrates, and therefore it can be quite damaging to consume lots of carbohydrates (sweet drinks, sugar in your coffee, pastries, cookies, chips, etc).

But, when we are exercising at even moderate intensities, carbohydrate consumption in our bodies jumps way up and it becomes our main source of fuel. These rates of carbohydrate burn are different for each person, and also very dependent on the intensity of the exercise. And, the source of your carbs matters a lot, too. Pure processed sugar, which has no other nutritional value and enters your system very rapidly, is not a good idea, especially before and after exercise. Sources of complex carbohydrates (fruits, vegetables, whole grains and fibrous starches) that have other valuable nutrients and get absorbed into the system more slowly, are a very good idea, especially before and after exercise.


How to get it right:

In the hour or two before exercise, aim to eat about 200kcal of carbohydrates, which is the equivalent of about 2-3 pieces of fruit or 3 slices of wholegrain bread. [No, this is not a license to start scarfing down donuts and candies before every workout.]

If your exercise will last more than an hour, you will want to try and get about 100kcal of carb into your system every 15 minutes or so (sipping on fruit juice, sports drink, pieces of fruit or sports gels can be good ways to do this).

For the 30 minutes or so after exercise, continue to try and consume carbohydrates at about the same rate of 100kcal every 15 minutes or so. If you are training for an endurance event and will regularly be training for 60 minutes or more, then get your carb burn rates tested, as you really don't want to leave a lot to guessing in this area. 


4. Taking on protein too quickly

Protein is important in all forms of exercise, as it comprises about 10% of your total energy burn while exercising, and continues to perform very important functions in your body throughout the day, most notably when you are sleeping. So, it is important to consume small amounts of protein (say, 5-10g  per hour, as a rough average guide) during exercise, especially during an extended training session of 90 minutes or more. But, when I see people consume a protein shake or a protein bar after a workout that has perhaps 30 or 40g (1-1.5 ounces) of protein, then I know they are consuming too much protein too quickly, as most people's bodies simply can't process that much protein all in one go, and they are just making some very protein-enriched urine.


How to get it right:

You'll have to do some calculations, which is annoying, but kind of important. You need to measure your body weight (because the total amount of tissue you are carrying around affects the total amount of protein you will need to repair, regenerate and maintain that tissue) and calculate 0.5 grams of protein per pound of body weight each day that you have moderate activity, or 0.75 grams of protein per pound of body weight each day that you have harder or more extended exercise.

For example, a person who weighs 150 pounds and is going to do 60-minute moderate run needs about 112 grams (about 4 ounces) of protein that entire day. That means about 7 grams (1/4 ounce) per waking hour on an active day, throughout the day. Whole-food proteins from vegetable sources (legumes, whole grains, nuts) or lean meats contain other valuable nutrients, and are generally considered to be far better than protein extracts (whey protein and soya protein isolates have come under fire a lot lately).

So, put down that protein shake and just have a glass of semi-skimmed chocolate milk (which, on average, contains about 8 grams of protein, 100kcal of carbohydrates, and a cup of water). Or peanut butter on a slice of wholewheat toast will do very nicely, too.


5. Overlooking vitamins and minerals

Fats, carbs and proteins tend to take up most of the discussion when we talk about nutrition, healthy eating and components of our food. But all the other nutrients that we get from eating a balanced diet are just as important, and perhaps more important for people who exercise regularly. I have seen more athletes get sidelined from potassium, magnesium, calcium and iron deficiencies than I have seen taken out of action by getting their protein intake wrong. Vitamins are organic nutrients that your body can't manufacture, and minerals are inorganic nutrients that your body can't manufacture, and they are all vital in maintaining good health and active lives. 


How to get it right:

See a qualified nutritionist or sports dietitian, get your specific levels measured and get your diet analysed. Generally speaking, a well-rounded diet coming from whole, healthy foods with a minimum of processing should provide enough vitamins and minerals each day. People who are avoiding certain foods for whatever reason (e.g. vegetarians, vegans, people who prefer gluten-free or lactose-free regimens, etc) or people whose bodies are incapable of processing or storing certain nutrients, may require supplements. 













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