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Tips to help you fuel up for fitness.

Read the American Dietetic Association's thoughts on sports nutrition for athletic adults.


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Tailoring Your Sports Diet

Most people would agree that the only difference between the nutritional needs of the athlete and the non-athlete is calories—the more active you are, the more food you need to eat. But are there differences among athletes? Does a swimmer need to eat differently than a runner or a biker?

The answer is yes...sometimes. Susan Kleiner, sports nutritionist and author of "Power Eating" says that although technically there are differing needs, it's very individualized. "While an endurance athlete does need less protein and more carbohydrates than a weightlifter, few athletes train purely in their own sport; most do some cross-training."

Identify your Training Style

When planning your diet, what matters most is how hard and how often you exercise. According to Nancy Clark's Sports Nutrition Guidebook, "during low-level exercise such as walking, the muscles burn primarily fats for energy. During light to moderate aerobic exercise, such as jogging, stored fat provides 50 to 60 percent of the fuel. When you exercise rely primarily on glycogen stores." Glycogen—a form in which your body stores carbohydrates—is converted into glucose (energy) as you need it. It's found mostly in your muscles and your liver and you can replenish it and prepare your body to exercise well by consuming adequate carbohydrates.

Carbo-Loading: Do it early and often

To build muscle and burn fat, you need carbohydrates, but if your muscles are low on stored glycogen, eating a big spaghetti dinner the night before you need it won't do the trick. Experts suggest eating carbo-rich meals two or three days before an event. Start replacing those depleted carbohydrates immediately after your event or workout.

Most Americans eat 5 to 6 grams of carbohydrate per kilogram of body weight per day (one kilogram translates into 2.2 pounds). Says Nancy Clark's Sports Nutrition Guidebook, "If you eat a low-carbohydrate diet your muscles will feel chronically fatigued." Susan Kleiner, author of "Power Eating," offers the following rule of thumb for daily carbohydrate intake:

  • Working out for one hour: 6 to 7 grams per kilogram
  • For two hours: 8 grams per kilogram
  • For three hours: 10 grams per kilogram
  • For four or more hours: 12 to 13 grams per kilogram

Protein Power

Protein is essential for building and repairing muscles, and it can be used for energy if you've exhausted your carbohydrate supply. Kleiner stresses that to ensure that you get enough protein each day, it's important to assess your intake as it relates to your training goals.

  • If you are training primarily to maintain muscle: you'll need 1.2 grams of protein per kilogram. That's about 70 grams for a 125-pound person.
  • If your goal is to build muscle: you'll need 1.4 to 1.5 grams of protein per kilogram.
  • To maintain or even build a little muscle and lose fat: you need to eat fewer calories while making sure you're getting 1.8 to 2.0 grams of protein per kilogram.

Andrea Rouda

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