As a registered dietitian, board certified specialist in sports dietetics and sports dietitian for professional, collegiate, Olympic, high school and masters athletes, my role is to help them capitalize on hydration and fueling strategies to optimize performance. Whether you’re starting a fitness journey, trying to maintain fitness, working on altering body composition or summer conditioning, hydration and fueling are key to your success. These recommendations can help improve strength, speed, stamina and recovery and decrease risk of injury.
In addition to these specific tips, keep in mind that your body is always in a state of prepare or repair. To optimize performance and recovery you should fuel and hydrate before and after every practice and workout.
Begin your workouts well hydrated.
Urine should be light in color and higher in volume before you start to exercise. Drink fluids and eat liquid-containing foods like fruits, vegetables, soups and smoothies before you hit the field or the weight room. Being well hydrated will improve strength, speed and stamina.
Drink extra electrolytes.
Along with optimal hydration, electrolytes like sodium, potassium and calcium can help prevent cramping. Drinking sports drinks and electrolyte packets mixed with water can help – as well as adding salt to food or eating salty foods, such as pickles, soy sauce and broth – can increase your electrolyte intake.
Replace what you lose.
For every pound of fluid you lose during practice or workouts, replace that fluid with a bottle of water or a sports drink. For reference, a typical bottle contains around 20 to 24 ounces. For example, if you lose 5 pounds during practice, you will need to drink around five bottles or 100 to 120 ounces of fluid in the hours after exercise. A good starting point is to try to drink 20 to 24 ounces right after workouts/practice. And if you’re a heavy sweater, try for two bottles or 40 to 48 ounces right away. Remember that fluid replacement post-exercise is in addition to your daily fluid needs, which for women is a minimum of 11.5 cups or 90 ounces, and for men 15.5 cups or about 125 ounces per day.
Sip, don’t chug.
How you drink may make your performance soar or stink. Chugging water in an attempt to hydrate is not productive. The body can only absorb a maximum of one quart (32 ounces) per hour in a hot and humid environment. Hydrate smarter, not harder, by drinking a max of four to eight gulps of water or sports drink every 20 minutes.
Think before you drink.
Too much booze may cause you to lose fluid, muscle, sleep quality and athletic performance. Be smart about when you drink, what you drink and how much you drink.
Add protein, produce and carbs.
Choose foods you like as a part of your performance plate. You can be selective with the foods you eat, but try to include protein, produce and carbohydrates at every meal you eat.
Avoid skipping meals.
Missing meals can hinder your performance and progress in changing your body composition. Aim to be consistent with the number of meals and snacks you choose daily. Food is fuel for performance; don’t let yourself run on empty.
Be sure to eat breakfast.
Your morning meal is a chance to refuel, replenish and rehydrate so your body does not have to play catch up. Again, make sure to put protein, produce and carbs on your plate. If you are too tired to chew, a smoothie may be a great choice.
Create a balanced and proportioned plate.
Half of your plate should be produce (fruits and vegetables), one-fourth should be protein (meat, poultry, fish/shellfish dairy, eggs or plant-based protein) and the last fourth should be carbs (rice, pasta, quinoa, potato, bread or cereal). A proportioned performance plate delivers on quality, quantity and consistency to help you maximize strength, speed, stamina and recovery.
Carbs from fruits, pasta, rice, potatoes, bread and corn provide the fuel your body needs for practice and workouts. If you eliminate the carbs from your plate, you may find yourself slower, weaker and more fatigued. Plus, eating too few carbs forces your body to use lean mass as a fuel source during exercise. Just say “no” to low carbohydrates.
Protein: more is not always better.
Protein needs can range anywhere from 0.5 grams/pound to slightly over 1 gram per pound body weight. So if you weigh 120 pounds and are consuming 140 grams of protein every day, you may be consuming more than you need and you may be shortchanging your carbohydrate intake by emphasizing protein to the exclusion of all other nutrients.
If you take in more protein than your body can utilize at one time, part will be used for energy or stored as fat and the rest will be peed out, making excess protein a waste of money.
A better approach is to maintain adequate and consistent protein intake throughout the day, by making sure that you consume protein-containing foods as part of every meal and snack. A good rule of thumb is to aim for at least 20 to 30 grams of protein per meal, which is about 3 to 4 ounces of meat, poultry, fish, eggs or cheese. If you consume plant-based proteins you can combine grains, nuts, seeds, beans, peas and soy foods to meet your protein needs.
Stay smart and savvy about supplements.
Just because you can buy it doesn’t mean you have to. Supplements are a complement to meals intended to help you get nutrients you may be missing. While there are many supplement options, they are not a replacement for food.
In addition to these hydration and nutrition tips, always get your sports nutrition info from reliable sources. Misinformation in nutrition is plentiful, and some advice may actually diminish your sports performance. Working with a sports dietitian can help you strategize and individualize your nutrition plan to realize your goals within your budget, energy needs and culinary ability. You can find a CSSD- board certified specialist in sports dietetics at www.eatright.org.