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NEWS | April 20, 2010

Exercise for the serious athlete

By Capt. Bree Newman Registered Dietitian

For those who exercise for more than 90 minutes per day, it is important to take nutrition habits seriously. Marathon runners, elite athletes, body builders and recreational sports participants put their bodies through the stresses of exercise and energy depletion. Extra attention must be given to replenish fluids, energy stores and protein. Continuous intense training requires sound recovery from each event.

Maximum performance depends on the delivery of glucose to the muscle cell. The American Academy of Sports Nutrition recommends 30 to 60 grams of carbohydrates after the first hour of activity. This equates to about 120 to 250 calories of sports drink, energy supplement or regular food like bananas.

Some athletes cannot eat for an hour following intense activity. Replenishing with calorie-rich liquids provides the same benefits as eating. If endurance sports induces appetite loss, use sports drinks, such as Gatorade, Cytomax, Accelerade or similar. Fruit juices can also be used, but the concentration of carbohydrates may cause stomach cramping. Be sure to try juices in training before using them in a performance event.

There are also gels on the market that provide a source of carbohydrates and calories. Examples include PowerBar Gel, Gu, Hammer Gels, Cliff shot and Carb-boom. These also should be tried out in training as they all taste differently; some have caffeine and some have more calories. Finding what works for you in training will maximize your performance.

Hydration is extremely important for maximizing athletic performance. You cannot hydrate for a four-hour endurance event the morning of the activity. You must start hydrating three or more days in advance. If you lose a lot of fluid during events, you need to be more vigilant on fluid intake during performance.

Equally as important to fluid loss are mineral losses that occur with sweating, including sodium, calcium or magnesium. If you begin cramping or become dehydrated, fatigued, or lose concentration, consider rehydrating with a concentrated electrolyte drink or dissolving some salt under your tongue.

Recovery meals are the baseline to maintaining a strong athletic foundation. Your ability to return to training at your intensity goal is dependent on the recovery meals. Fifteen minutes after an endurance training event, consume about 45 to 75 grams of carbohydrates and 15 to 25 grams of protein. Quick snacks that fit this carb to protein ratio include chocolate milk, recovery shakes, trail mix or a sandwich. Within an hour, consume a well-balanced meal. Continue to rehydrate and make sure you rest.

As a runner, my goals are to train well and perform well. I do not underestimate the importance of maintaining hydration, consuming carbohydrates and balancing my nutrients. If you hydrate, replenish and recover from each training session, your athletic performance will be maximized.