Sports nutrition is a constant topic of debate and theory.
You’re probably aware that what you eat has a tremendous impact not only on your health, but also your workout results.
But, with so many “food rules” and “sports nutrition science” out there, it’s tough to decipher what the right way is to eat for maximal benefits…read on to get the scoop.
Read any popular health and fitness magazine on newsstands, text book in a university Sports Nutrition class, or talk to your Average Joe personal trainer at the gym, and chances are you’ll read or hear:
- Eat less (calories), and burn more.
- Start your day off with fasted cardio to burn more.
- Carbs are the enemy
- Nutrient timing is everything.
- Carb up before a big race.
- Replace lost glycogen with sugar (i.e. fast-acting carbs) post-workout
- Avoid fats around workouts.
- Consume a post-workout shake within 30-minutes of your workout for optimal benefits.
These are long-standing beliefs we’ve been told for years.
However, much like old-school nutritional wisdom has been de-bunked in recent years, such as:
Old-school Nutrition Claim: “Eating fat will make you fat”
Truth: Healthy fats are actually good for us, and fat doesn’t make us fat—sugar and hydrogenated oils do.
Old-school Nutrition Claim: “Saturated fats causes heart disease.”
Truth: Research has actually now showed that saturated fats—like coconut oil, butter and organic animal meats—actually is necessary and prevents heightened cholesterol and heart disease.
Old-school Nutrition Claim: “Eat 6-11 healthy whole grains for a balanced diet.”
Truth: We actually get more nutrition from veggies and fruits; and a diet rich in grains is connected to autoimmune diseases, arthritis, ADD/ADHD, hormonal imbalances and impaired digestion.
…What we’ve been told about sports nutrition may not be all it’s chalked up to be either.
Here are 10 Common Nutrition Mistakes that Prevent Workout Results (and the truth to set you free).
1. Carbing Up.
This is a big one in the running and endurance community. Race tomorrow morning? Carb up on a bowl of pasta the night before. Long 6-12 mile run at Townlake on Saturday? Carb up with a stack of blueberry pancakes at Magnolia Café afterward. Energy to get through your events? Gel packs! Duh! Breakfast of champions? Start the day off with a banana, oatmeal and glass of orange juice.
And, when it comes to weight training, your body is in even less of a need for the instant carb surge. That’s because most weight workouts—even the more intense sessions in the 45 to 60 minute range—don’t come close to depleting your glycogen stores.
The problem with overemphasizing the carbs is that many athletes hit what is known as the proverbial “bonk”— a wall in the middle or end of the event (a crash).
Why? Carbs, while necessary to fuel and perform, cause a spike in blood sugar (hence: energy). If we ingest too much carb, or an imbalance of carbs to protein, we get a quick spike in blood sugar (and cortisol—our stress hormone), shortly followed by a crash (or the neeeeeeeed for a gel pack, or quick hit of sugar once more). In addition, post-workout carbing up isn’t as dire as many may make it out to be either. Recent research published in the Journal of Applied Physiology found that bumping up carbohydrates to more than 50 percent of their diet (and maxing out at 75 percent) didn’t improve muscle glycogen and only led to a minor 5 percent improvement in their performance.
Nevertheless, most of us average folks (read: Not pro athletes) run just fine on a moderate amount of carbs in our day and around our workouts.
Bottom line: No need to “carb up.” Carbs are necessary, yes, but eat a BALANCE of protein, carbs and fats throughout the day. Around workouts, carbs can be great, but an overemphasis can promote a spike in blood sugar, followed by a crash.
2. Inflammatory Franken-Foods.
Muscle Milk. Monster. Cliff Bars. Quest Bars. Protein Cookies. Gold Standard Whey. Zone Perfect Bars. In other words: Not real food.
Guess what this “food” is:
Organic Brown Rice Syrup, Organic Rolled Oats, Soy Protein Isolate, Organic Cane Syrup, Organic Dried Cane Syrup, Rice Flour, Organic Roasted Soybeans, Organic Soy Flour, Organic Oat Fiber, Cocoa, Cocoa Butter, Organic Date Paste, Organic Sunflower Oil, Natural Flavors, Soy Flour, Sea Salt, Barley Malt Extract, Organic Vanilla Extract, Soy Lecithin.
And now, guess what this is:
Milk chocolate (sugar, chocolate, cocoa butter, nonfat milk, milkfat, lactose, soy lecithin, natural flavor), Crisped Rice (rice flour, sugar, barley malt, salt).
A Cliff Bar compared to a Nestle Crunch Candy bar.
Similar ingredients: Soy lecithin, rice, natural flavors, cocoa butter, sugar.
Even similar sugar content: Cliff Bar (22 grams) vs. Crunch Bar (25 grams).
And the Nestle Crunch Bar actually has less artificial ingredients than the Cliff Bar.
If you think you are replenishing your body with “nutrition” bars, shakes and convenience foods…Think again.
Not to mention the fact that by the time your body has extracted some fat from the Cocoa Butter, or carb replenishment from the oats or rice, or poor sourced protein from the soy, it’s also spiked your cortisol levels (i.e. stress) even more post-workout, trying to digest the Franken-food in the first place.
Or the fact that you are running to the bathroom shortly after drinking your protein shake—every time.
Unfortunately, most supplement “health stores” are adult candy stores, masking candy in supplements, protein bars, mass gainers and muscle fuel.
Don’t fall for it.
(Note: There ARE a handful of protein powders and bars on the market that do incorporate more real, whole sources of food. Lately, I’ve been into Exos Whey Protein Isolate by Thorne, collagen protein mixed into a green smoothie or some good ol’ bone broth. For more on this topic, check out this post here and here).
Bottom line: Not all protein powders, bars or supplements are created equal (and the vast majority is just like candy to your body).
3. Not Fueling Before.
Want to lose more fat? Fasted workouts MUST be the answer. And while some folks may swear by fasted workouts, if you are not 90-100% healthy (I am talking stress levels, normal cortisol patterns, hormonal balance, well-rested, well-fed here), then you are only stressing your body out more.
Maybe you wake up…hit the stairs for 30-60 minutes…then eat breakfast because you “earned it.” Or, perhaps you are an early bird, and hit the gym for 1-2 hours most mornings for your strength and conditioning session on nothing more than a cup of coffee or Energy drink—resolving to refuel with a big breakfast after.
However, given the fact that your body is trying to positively deal with the stress of exercise alone, couple this by demanding it do so with little to no energy and you are only spiking your cortisol levels (more).
The negative about too much stress (working out + empty tank) is that our body ends up working against us—not for us.
Instead of viewing the stress of exercise as a positive one to repair and rebuild upon, our body is compounded by additional stress, and ends up doing the opposite of what we want it to do (eating our own muscle, storing and holding onto fat for dear life, depressing our hormones, suppressing our normal appetite cues—leading to lack of hunger or insatiable hunger).
Unless you ate a fairly large meal before bed, consider having at least a little something before you workouts—particularly anything involving weights. Find what works for you: a piece of fruit, some quality protein powder, bone broth, bulletproof coffee, half a banana with some almond butter, a spoon or two of coconut butter, a hardboiled egg, a green smoothie—a little something something.
Bottom line: Don’t run on empty.
4. Nutrient Timing (Getting Caught up in Pre/Post Workout Perfection).
Eating is not a game of perfect and your body does not see food like we do (rules).
Your body does not say: “I need to drink a protein shake exactly within 30-minutes of finishing your workout. By minute 31, all results are lost if not.” Or, “My needs are exactly the same as your BFF who needs to eat six small meals every day.” Or, “I require EXACTLY a 2:1 ratio of carbs to protein post-workout.” All your body sees is fuel. It’s thankful when you fuel it adequately with foods it recognizes as food and knows what to do with it. It knows how to tap into energy stores from breakfast by your noon-time workout and may not necessarily demand you drink an Amino Acid powder in your water 20-minutes before hitting the gym. It can make it an hour or two, until your next complete meal without eating itself—not necessarily needing a post-workout snack if you plan to eat dinner after your evening workout. Many folks get far too wrapped up in the rules and logistics of pre and post-workout fuel, but really, all our body sees and know is fuel—throughout the day. Again, if you are an average Joe—not a pro athlete or uber serious competitor—what matters MOST is how you are fueling yourself throughout the day.Still believe nutrient timing is everything? Check out this 2013 review of 7 different studies on the role of nutrition timing—and carbs and protein—around workouts.
There was NOT ONE single universal conclusion, except that eating throughout the day—and getting in a balance of nutrients—is nothing but beneficial. Your individual needs of carbs and protein, and specific timing of those nutrients, completely depends on your age, gender, and activity level/demands of training. In addition, researchers concluded that the food we eat has up to a 4-6 hour anabolic effect (meaning that as long as we are eating about every 4-6 hours, we can fuel our bodies throughout the day).
The claim that “nutrient timing is everything” is therefore a bold, over-exaggerated statement that looks completely different for the 42-year-old mom Barre enthusiast, the 21-year-old Tone It Up basement cardio bunny, the 60-year-old Master’s swimmer, and 23 year-old local CrossFit competitor.
Bottom line: What you eat after a workout is less important than meeting your overall nutrient and energy needs for the day. Your post-workout window is really all about the next 24 hours (rather than 30 to 60 minutes), and as long as you are eating something—a meal or snack—within about the first 4 hours following your session being when you want to make sure you eat or have a shake.
Let’s clear the air here: Are you eating 1200 calories or less per day? If so, you are undereating.
A caveat of far too many people is not eating too much, but instead eating too little. “Eating less”, in theory, sounds like a no-duh-Sherlock idea. Of course if you eat less, you’ll reach your leaning and toning goals, right? Wrong. You only force your body to go into survival mode. In addition, I am not necessarily talking about extreme dieting or restriction here either. Far too many folks simply underestimate how much food their body needs to perform, recover and live exuberantly. (See more on this topic here and here). How much fuel do you need? While every BODY is different, generally speaking, no less than 1800 calories for females and 2200 for males (composed of quality fuel) is a baseline if you are moderately active. Get your own personal plan today to learn how to fuel up for your body and needs.
Bottom line: Eat more (not less) to power performance, energy and gains (lean muscle building, tone, strength and recovery).
6. Neglecting Fats (for repair).
Myth: “While your post-workout feeding should be rich protein and carbohydrate, this meal should be fat free. The consumption of essential fats is one of the most overlooked areas of daily nutritional intake but during the post workout period, eating fat can actually decrease the effectiveness of your post-workout beverage.”—conventional wisdom straight from the bros of us all—Bodybuilding.com.
Fat continues to get a bad rep. For years we’ve been told that eating post-workout fats is a bad idea because it inhibits the absorption of our nutrients. Quite the opposite: Fat helps us fully digest our foods and absorb them, and a little bit of fat post-workout is NOT going to slow your gains—particularly when paired with some protein and carb. A normal meal post-workout is perfectly adequate for the majority of folks. In fact, one of the best fats to reach for post-WOD is coconut oil or coconut butter. Coconut is A medium-chain triglyceride (MCT) metabolizes very differently when compared to other fats. It surpasses the initial stage of fat digestion, being transported directly to the liver where it is quickly converted into energy.
Bottom line: Eating fat post-workout will not stunt your gains.
7. Chugging a shake post-workout.
Let your body breathe for a second!
Coming off a workout also means your body is coming off a spike in cortisol. Let your body breathe for at least 10-minutes. Drink some water, and allow your stress levels to recalibrate. Digestion is a process that occurs in a parasympathetic state. If you want to maximize and absorb the nutrients you do take in, wait a moment, rehydrate, breathe and then eat or drink.
Bottom line: Let your body de-stress for 10-minutes post workout. Digestion occurs in a parasympathetic (relaxed) state to absorb your nutrients.
8. Focusing on Macros (Not Food Quality).
Have you eaten your macros today? You know: the 100-150 grams of carbs, 1 gram of protein per pound of lean body mass, and 30% fat grams?
This philosophy (counting macros) also often includes the belief that “anything goes” as long as it fits your macros (or stays within your allotted number of calories): Overcooked frozen broccoli, 5-6 day old chicken breast, canned tuna every day for lunch, a packet of instant oatmeal, rice and chicken for every meal…Sure you are getting in protein, carbs, veggies, but the quality (or nutrient density) of those foods are lacking. And when we are nutrient deprived (vitamin and mineral deficiencies) then we are not getting the biggest bang for our nutrient buck. What is more nourishing to our body?
- A fast-food Whataburger or gourmet, grass-fed beef burger cooked at home?
- A pale, white iceberg lettuce salad with Ranch dressing, croutons and shredded Kraft cheddar cheese, or a rich, baby green spinach salad with wild-caught salmon, extra virgin olive oil and vinegar, and raw grass-fed goat cheese?
- A mealy, 4-week-old , soft and chewy Red Delicious apple, or a crisp bright red, juicy Fuji apple you bought at the store yesterday?
You know the answer. Fueling up is not just about meeting your macros. NO, that doesn’t mean everything has to be organic. Think: well-cooked, colorful, rich, flavorful, nutrient-dense food. Instead of eating just to eat your macros, eat to nourish your body.
Bottom line: Fuel your body with nutrient-dense foods.
9. Eating Sugar Post Workout.
Often times people, particularly athletes, turn to sugar or ‘fast digesting carbs’ to replace the energy stores used during a tough workout—think: Gatorade, lemonade, fruit punch, Kool Aid, fruit juice, gummy bears, protein powder with a 2:1 ratio of sugar carbs: protein.
Quite the opposite though: Eating sugar post-workout actually stunts (or actually shuts down) your body’s natural production of human growth hormone—the ‘muscle rebuilder.’ Even before working out, a high sugar meal will slightly impair human growth hormone.
Bottom line: Sugar does not do a body goo.
On this note, we will touch on one more common nutrition myth:
10. Chocolate Milk is the Optimal Workout Drink.
Far from it.
That trip to the gas station post-workout to chug back some Nestle Chocolate Milk is only giving you three things: Difficult-to-digest lactose, sugar (see the point above) and all these other chemicals: ALKALI, CALCIUM CARBONATE, CELLULOSE GEL, MODIFIED CORN STARCH, NATURAL AND ARTIFICIAL FLAVORS, SALT, CELLULOSE GUM, GELLAN GUM, CARRAGEENAN. In other words: Very little nutrition. If you are going to reach for milk, the BEST option for optimal nutrient uptake is: A raw grass-fed milk (from your local farmer) or a full-fat, pasture-raised, grass-fed milk (at the grocery store) mixed in with some organic cocoa powder or cacao—the real deal. Milk CAN be a beneficial source of nutrition—particularly for those trying to build muscle or size—but the key lies in the quality of the food.
Bottom line: Drink real milk—not fake milk.
Aye aye aye!
The BIG bottom line?
- Eat real food
- Eat enough food
- Don’t get so caught up in rules about macronutrients or timing
- Learn what works for your body
- Choose your shakes and supplements wisely (look for quality ingredients if you want to actually absorb them)
- Chill out (de-stress) to get the most out of your nutrition
Want a practical nutrition blueprint that works for your body’s needs, your goals or our lifestyle?
Connect with me today and let’s get you (and your workouts) thriving.