By Sheila Flavin, M.S., R.D.N.
With a myriad of complicated, sometimes conflicting, and often expensive advice available about sports nutrition, it’s no wonder that people are often confused about what to eat and drink before, during, and after exercise. Carbs or protein? Before or after workout? Water or sports drinks? Protein powder? Nutrition bars? Help!
As a dietician, I am often asked for help in sorting through all of this information and helping people decide on the best nutrition/ hydration plan. Some of the most commonly asked questions are as follows:
What should I drink when I exercise?
Ordinary water, of course, is the classic choice. But with store shelves everywhere full of sports drinks, energy drinks, and various flavored and fortified waters, what's an exerciser to do? Experts say it all depends on your taste -- as well as the length and intensity of your workouts.
Here's a look at how the various drinks measure up:
How much water should I drink?
To start out well hydrated, drink about 2 cups of fluid at least 2 hours before you exercise.
Drink about ½ cup of water every 30 minutes during exercise.
How do I know if I am dehydrated?
The best way to determine your hydration level is the color of your urine. The following website provides a great guide. http://www.nehc.med.navy.mil/downloads/healthyliv/nutrition/urinekleurenkaart.pdf
Should I eat extra salty food after exercise?
Sweat contains sodium (salt), and the reason for cramps after exercise is to dehydration and/or low sodium level. However, sports drinks do not have enough sodium in them to replace lost sodium during exercise. Salt content in sweat is variable and everyone is different. You can tell if you are a heavy salt sweater if there is a white residue left when your workout clothes dry out after a workout session. If you sweat stings your eyes or leaves a gritty feeling on your arms or legs, then you are a heavy salt sweater. No need to buy expensive sport supplements; just eat or drink salty food: V-8 juice, chicken broth, pretzels or saltine crackers.
What should I eat?
The simple answer is carbohydrates. Carbs are an athlete’s best friend.
Hopefully this simplifies things and reduces the enormous pressure that people feel to buy fancy, expensive, hyped-up sports specialty products. Your best bet still is, and always will be, regular food and water. Thanks for reading, and happy exercising!