Like any complex machine, the human body needs the right type of fuel to help it operate efficiently. Exercise is important, but without proper nutrition, many of the benefits can be lost.
Nutrition consultant Sue Kay of StarCo Wellness Programs recently conducted a nutrition seminar for the Mill Creek High School football team. The purpose: to present a nutrition and hydration plan for the players to help them be better, stronger and faster on the football field.
While Kay’s plan was prepared with football in mind, she said it applies to anyone who exercises.
“Overall, the general plan is good for anyone embarking on a fitness program,” she said. According to Kay, a good nutrition program will maximize energy, minimize the risk of injury, help the body recover more quickly after exercise and improve strength and speed.
Earlier this year, Kay met with the players to present an overall nutrition plan. In the summer, Kay said the nutritional strategy for the football players, and anyone who engages in outdoor physical activity, must change, especially in terms of hydration.
“[Hydration] has a lot to do with muscle fatigue, how well they feel, how much energy they have and how much they get out of their workouts,” Kay said.
As little as 0.5 percent body water loss can increase strain on the heart. Six percent body water loss can lead to physical exhaustion, heatstroke and coma.
“People look at hydration as a single episode and they drink too much,” she said. “It really has to be an overall plan to keep yourself continually hydrated. A lot of people drink way too much at one time. The idea is to drink small amounts throughout the exercise.”
Kay said it is important to drink 12 cups of fluid every day, preferably ice water. On workout days, an athlete should drink 16-20 ounces of cold water two hours prior to the workout. Thirty minutes prior to the workout, she recommends consuming 14-20 ounces of a sports drink such as Accelerade, Gatorade or Powerade.
During the workout, the goal should be to drink seven ounces of cold sports drink every 15 minutes.
In addition to staying properly hydrated, Kay said it is very important to eat the right food.
“The choices you make about what you eat and what you drink, determine your performance on the field,” she said.
The key to Kay’s nutrition plan is stabilizing blood sugar levels.
“When you do that, you improve your energy levels, but you also eat in a way that helps maintain lean muscle mass as opposed to breaking down lean muscle mass,” she said.
Kay said it is important to recognize that even if you are not hungry prior to a workout, your body needs fuel. Kay recommends every athlete should eat within one hour of getting up, every three hours during the day and not eat within two hours of going to bed. Kay said each meal should consist of a complex carbohydrate, a lean protein and a small amount of fat.
On a daily basis, an athlete should get 50-55 percent of their overall calories from carbohydrates, Kay said.
Among the foods Kay recommends for athletes: whole grain foods, low fat dairy products, lean meats, raw vegetables, dried fruits and nuts. Kay said athletes should avoid fried foods, caffeine, carbonated drinks and foods containing high fructose corn syrup.
While eating before a workout is necessary to provide the body with fuel for exercise, a post workout meal is also important. Kay said the body needs to be replenished within 30 minutes of ending a workout in order to help muscles recover quickly and to improve future performance.
Kay emphasized that following a good nutrition program is highly critical to any athlete’s success.
“Overall, it’s going to make their bodies healthier. When their bodies are healthier, they can use them in an optimal way,” she said. “They can build strength, endurance and maintain strength and endurance which will make them overall better football players.”