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Eat Like an Athlete

Kaiser Permanente registered dietitian Kim Tirapelle has some tips on eating well to maximize your athletic performance.

If you’ve been watching the summer games,  you may be motivated to up your own athletic performance. While you probably don’t have time to devote hours to training, you can maximize your workouts and results by eating like an athlete.

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Kim Tirapelle, MS, RD

Look InsideKP NCAL spoke with Kim Tirapelle, MS, RD, a registered dietitian at Kaiser Permanente Fresno. She’s also a former collegiate soccer player and a Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics who works with all 20 Division I athletic teams at Fresno State University.

Whether your goal is to get the most out of your gym workouts or medal in a triathalon, Tirapelle emphasized that good nutrition is critical.

What are some basics of sports nutrition?

One of the main things to know is that you need to eat on a consistent schedule. This will give you energy during your workouts and will help your body recover so that you’re able to work out again the next day.

Consistent means three meals a day — no skipping meals — and not going for more than three or four hours without eating.  You also need to focus on pre- and post-workout nutrition.

Whether you’re trying to gain muscle or lose weight, a consistent eating schedule is critical. If you’re trying to lose weight, it’s also important to look at your overall calorie intake to make sure you’re not eating more than you’re burning.

Talk about pre-workout essentials.

The most important nutrient for your pre-workout is carbohydrates because muscles run on carbohydrates during exercise.

If you’re eating within an hour of working out, you should eat something small, carbohydrate-rich, and easy to digest — such as a piece of fruit, half a bagel, dry whole grain cereal, or pretzels. You want food that won’t sit in your stomach, but will get to your muscles quickly.

Within two hours of working out, stick to small meals, such as a half sandwich with a banana.

If you have three or four hours before a workout, you can eat a normal meal. Ideally, your meal should be primarily carbohydrate-rich foods such as whole-grain bread, rice, pasta, or potatoes, rounded out with lean protein, and vegetables. You want to avoid high fat and fiber in the hours before your workout or competition because these can lead to gastrointestinal upset.

What about post-workout?

Within an hour of working out, you should eat a meal with carbohydrates and protein. Protein is important for building and repairing muscles, but a lot of people over-emphasize protein. About 20 grams of protein per meal is a good recommendation for most everyone. For example, that would be three ounces of chicken, which is the size of a deck of cards.

Protein shakes are convenient, but they’re expensive and most people can get the protein they need from food such as dairy products, meat, seafood, or beans.

What do you recommend for hydration?

If you’re exercising for an hour or less, generally, water is enough to meet your hydration needs. If you’re working out for longer than that or if you’re in a hot and humid environment, sports drinks are recommended and important to provide carbohydrates to the muscles and to replace electrolytes that are lost by sweating. This can also help to reduce muscle cramping.

If you drink 20 ounces of water two hours before you work out and you keep sipping water until you exercise, this should ensure that you’re well hydrated to start.

Final thoughts?

I tell every one of my athletes that you cannot out-train a poor diet. If you focus on nutrition, you’ll see great benefits in the gym or pool, on the field, or wherever you work out or compete.

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This Post Has 6 Comments
  1. I don’t agree that sports drinks are a good option if you are working out more than an hour. Recent studies on milk show that it is more hydrating than water and provides faster recovery than other beverages. Honestly, I feel better about drinking milk that is full of natural protein and vitamins that I know are bioavailable, or in a form that my body can use rather than a sugary sports drink with foreign ingredients and unnatural additives and which provides very little nutritional benefit.

    Reference on studies:
    Maughan, Ronald, et. al. School of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences, Loughborough University “A randomized trial to assess the potential of different beverages to affect hydration status: development of a beverage hydration index”

  2. Thank you from a mom who has a Div I track & field freshman just starting out, and a daughter getting ready for her half marathon in October.

  3. Thank you, Kim! I have been enjoying reading articles about how the culture of carbo-loading and eating junk food has shifted toward athletes eating cleaner, and like you said not too much – just regularly and balanced. Great messages.

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