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Powerline: 5 nutritional tips for training and recovery

The area of sports nutrition is as vital as any component in the organization and administration of a successful strength and conditioning program. At Michigan State University, we’re fortunate to have the professional expertise and services of Rob Masterson, RD, to assist our athletes in navigating through the maze of nutrient hype, misinformation and questionable practices.

Along with appropriate training and seven to nine hours of sleep each night, disciplined nutrition procedures are paramount.

Here are six of Masterson’s tips for optimal nutrition and peak performance.

1. Develop a sound sports-nutrition mentality.

The right outlook and approach to performance nutrition is the first and most important step to improving your eating habits and diet. Attention to dietary details can lead to higher energy levels, improved focus, greater gains in muscle mass, faster recovery, and ultimately, higher levels of speed, power and endurance. Improved overall body composition (lean mass vs. fat mass) plays a crucial role in these enhancements.

Becoming a great athlete takes time, dedication and great effort. Proper sports nutrition is no different. It takes time to develop improved eating habits. And you cannot expect dramatic changes in your diet and performance overnight. Small, incremental steps always work best, allowing your body and mind to adjust to the changes. To see real and permanent results, you must want those changes to take place. Dedication to the nutritional goals and protocols must be a mainstay. The effort to plan meals and snacks accordingly, and the discipline to stick to the plan, must be evident on a daily basis.

2. Eating right and eating often.

Regardless of nutrition goals, athletes must eat often to stay energized. Even if you’re trying to lose weight, going long periods without eating only depletes energy stores, slows metabolism and keeps athletes from reaching their athletic peak. When they’re not eating enough and often enough, their bodies are not able to push through workouts at a high level of intensity. And their recovery from workouts is slow, which ultimately leads to a decline in performance.

It’s important to eat something every two to three hours, which means having snacks between meals and possibly a bedtime snack. While this may be challenging at first, a consistent effort and sure-fire plan makes this a normal part of their routine.

3. Pre-workout fueling.

All pre-exercise fueling should focus on carbohydrates. Daily carbohydrate recommendations range from 2.5 to 4.5 grams per pound of body weight, so their value is apparent. High-carb foods are those that are rapidly broken down and used for energy during workouts, and that’s why they’re such valuable pre-workout choices. A good rule of thumb here: The harder the workout, the higher your carb intake.

It’s not just about what you’re eating, but also when you’re eating it. The closer you get to the workout, the food selections should be lower in fat and easier to digest. High-fat foods should be avoided, because they take longer to digest and can upset your stomach during exercise. Smaller food quantities should be chosen at this point for the same reason.

If you have two to three hours before workouts, a decent-sized meal can be consumed, with some protein, but still focusing on the carbs, and keeping the fat to a lower level. When you’re 30 to 60 minutes removed from a workout, a larger snack — peanut butter and jelly sandwich, fruit, yogurt — would fit the bill. With only 10 to 15 minutes before the workout, a small snack like an energy bar or piece of fruit is a wise choice.

4. Post-workout fueling.

Following workouts, refueling is the major focus and it may be the most important area in helping you reach your performance goals. This means replenishing carbs that were burned for energy in addition to adding the adequate protein needed to repair and build muscle.

Daily protein requirements range from 0.07 to 0.09 grams per pound of body weight. Some have recommended as high as 1 gram each day per pound of bodyweight, but that’s in the case of extremely active athletes. Both carbs and protein are necessary for optimal recovery. If you miss out on either, you will be hard-pressed to reap any significant benefits from the workout.

Keep in mind:

  • Start refueling as soon as possible; preferably, no longer than 30 to 60 minutes after the workout.
  • Select high-quality carb and protein options for refueling. A full meal is ideal, but a snack can fit the bill and is usually more practical. Options include Greek yogurt, a deli sandwich/wrap or low-fat-chocolate milk.
  • Besides replenishing carbs for energy and protein for muscle repair and growth, incorporate citrus fruits, berries, nuts and avocados. They contain antioxidants, anthocyanins and omega-3s to reduce inflammation and muscle soreness.

5. Practice performance hydration.

Proper hydration is as important as the food you eat. As little as 2 percent loss in total body fluid can lead to decreased reaction time, headache, nausea, muscle cramps and elevated heart rate.

Here are some guidelines:

  • Drink approximately 24 ounces of fluid (water/sports drink) for every pound lost during workouts or competition.
  • Drink at least 20 ounces of fluid two to three hours before a workout or competition.
  • Drink at least 10 ounces of fluid 10 to 20 minutes before a workout or competition.
  • Drink at least 8 ounces of fluid every 15 to 20 minutes during a workout or competition.

6. Be supplement smart.

Food should always be your first source for nutrients and the body’s energy/recovery requirements. If you choose to take a dietary supplement, be cautious that you don’t put your health or eligibility at risk. Before taking any over-the-counter supplement, check with a registered dietician on the safety, legality and efficacy of the product.

Here are some key questions to ask regarding supplements:

Why am I taking this supplement?

If you’re taking a supplement because a friend or fellow athlete recommended it, that does not guarantee that the product is safe, effective or permissible.

Is there a purity seal/certification on the product?

Always look for a purity seal of certification — not just any will do. The certifications you’re looking for are from independent, third-party organizations that test for banned and adulterated ingredients. Seals that you should look for are Banned Substance Control Group (BSCG), NSF Certified for Sport, Informed-Choice/Informed Sport, and United States Pharmacopia (USP). If the supplement does not have at least one of these names/logos on the packaging, there’s a certain amount of risk involved in using the product.

While these certifications increase the likelihood that the product if free of banned substances, there is no guarantee. Also, it’s not a seal of approval that the product will reap its purported benefits.

Does the supplement make outrageous claims?

If a supplement makes claims that sound too good to be true, they most likely are. Any statement of “extreme muscle gain or weight loss” in a short period of time is voodoo propaganda. Your best bet is to stay clear of it and save your hard-earned money for some good, healthy food.

Are there questionable catch phrases?

“All natural,” “clinically tested and proven” or “gold standard,” “pharmaceutical strength” are all terms that are not regulated and do not offer any guarantees for product safety or efficacy.


Ken Mannie is the head strength and conditioning coach Michigan State University. His column, Powerline, appears regularly in Coach & Athletic Director magazine. 


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