Proper Nutrition for Optimal Performance

Do you drive your car with your fuel gauge frequently on empty? How about running your performance sports vehicle with low-octane gasoline? Have you ever driven on a long trip, with gas stations few-and-far-between, worrying profusely whether you would reach the next one before you run out of gas?

Proper nutrition for our bodies before, during and after brisk exercise strikingly mimics the needs of a well-functioning machine. Our bodies’ organs have definite requirements to optimize performance. Should these provisions run low, our ability to accomplish our activity goals will not be met. Not only is the amount of nutrients important, but also its composition.

The single most important component of our “fuel” is fluids. Obviously, water is the basic fluid, and the most vital. Should you sweat a lot, supplementing water with a sports drink, high in electrolytes, will prevent drops in sodium and potassium. At least 16-24 ounces of water should be consumed before activity, as well as frequent supplementation during and afterwards.

The single most important energy source for exercise is carbohydrates. Our bodies’ cells, including those of our muscles, require them for ready-made fuel while we are active. We need to consume them 30-60 minutes before we start, and throughout recovery. A good rule is to eat 250 calories of carbohydrate per hour of average exercise. Vigorous exercisers will need more. Should your routine last more than one hour, be sure to replenish your carbohydrate supply while exercising. Avoid pure sugar-containing carbohydrates, as they may become used up before our routine is finished. A “slower-absorbed” carbohydrate, higher in fiber, may avoid unpredictable blood sugar fluctuations, thus affecting our performance. Fruits and whole grain products are ideal for this. The water content of some fruits makes them especially advantageous.

Protein supplies important amino acids, which are needed to build, train and repair our muscles. This is valuable as an adjunct to carbohydrates; they should not be used as the primary source of fuel. Diets high in protein, at the expense of healthy carbohydrates, are detrimental to optimal exercise performance. For proper muscle health, even with weight training, carbohydrates are as vital as proteins.

Protein is most important upon completing a work-out. This “recovery” meal should have both carbohydrates and protein, in order to replenish and heal our tired muscles. We should consume this at most one hour after exercise. We lose much of the benefit of training if we do not refuel at this critical time.

Fat has very little use as a nutrient for exercisers. It is the most calorie-dense of our nutrients, and the most inefficient one to process readily for our energy needs. We certainly need some fat for basic bodily functions, but we usually take in plenty with even our healthy foods. The protein we eat after exercising, therefore, should be generally lower in fat content. Low-fat dairy, lean meat and fish, nuts, and even supplemental protein powders will accomplish this task.

It is very important not to “skimp” on calories around the time of exercise for the sake of losing weight. This is not the time to deplete ourselves of nutrients. To do so would deprive our bodies of the benefits of working so hard. Our fitness will not improve, and our muscles with not adapt properly to training. Fatigue and injury will increase.

We devote much time and energy to working out. We should not waste the time and effort by not properly supplying our body with its proper needs before, during and after exercise.

Dr. Lewis is a primary care internal medicine physician at Premier Internists/Millennium Medical Group, P.C., in Southfield.

© 2011 Copyright   Allison Stuart Kaplan LLC

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