Whether you're a "weekend warrior" trying to stay fit or an athlete training for a marathon, what you eat can affect how you perform. Eating right can give you the edge to help energize your workout or reach that 26th mile. But which foods are best for fitness activities, and which should you avoid? With so many sports drinks, bars, powders, and supplements to choose from, how do you know which are best? Or can you skip the expensive supplements and get everything you need from a well-planned diet?
For answers to these questions and more, WebMD turned to sports nutrition expert Christine Rosenbloom, PhD, RD, author and nutrition professor at Georgia State University in Atlanta.
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What is the best thing to eat before exercising for energy and endurance?
Fueling exercise requires quality carbohydrates, lean protein, heart-healthy fats, and fluids. Your muscles rely on carbohydrate foods like breads, cereals, pasta, rice, fruits, and vegetables for a quick energy source. Protein is needed to build and maintain muscles and for healthy blood cells. Blood cells deliver nutrients and oxygen to working muscles.
Foods provide the gas to the body’s engine, and fluids provide the water to your body’s radiator. Without these crucial fuels and fluids, your body will have a hard time performing at its best.
Is there an ideal pre-sport or exercise meal?
The ideal pre-sport meal has five characteristics:
Moderate in carbohydrates and protein
Made up of familiar, well-tolerated foods.
The pre-game meal is not the time to try a new food. A grilled chicken sandwich or a slice of cheese pizza might fit the pre-game meal description, but stay clear of the fried food (including french fries), greasy burgers, and soft drinks.
Why is it so important to drink plenty of liquids during exercise?
Not only does being well hydrated improve your performance, it can save your life. Water acts as your body’s cooling system; without sufficient water during exercise your body temperature can reach dangerously high levels.
The best way to stay hydrated is to drink plenty of fluids with meals and drink about two cups (16 ounces) of water two hours before exercise. Monitor your hydration status through two simple measures:
Weigh yourself before and after exercise and replace lost weight with 2 cups of fluids for each pound lost.
Check the color of your urine. When you're hydrated, your urine will be a light straw color.
Is it better to stay hydrated with sports drinks or plain water?
Recreational athletes can drink water for hydration. But if you're exercising for more than 60 minutes in hot, humid conditions, sports drinks provide not only fluid, but carbohydrates and sodium. Sports drinks are also a good choice if you play team sports like soccer or football, especially when the temperature and humidity are high. If you are a heavy sweater, a sports drink might be preferable to water.