Seen on Ironman.com and written by Leslie J. Bonci, MPH, RD, CSSD, LDN
Even the smartest athletes out there aren’t always smart about what they put into their bodies. As I’ve been working with Hines Ward, who has been committed to nutrition since day one, I’ve been inspired to share some of the common misconceptions about fueling right with the wider IRONMAN community.
Myth #1: Carbs are bad for you
One of the big misconceptions among endurance athletes is that carbs are bad. In reality, carbohydrates are an endurance athlete’s primary energy source. That doesn’t mean you want to eat carbs exclusively, but you do need to have them on your plate, whether you choose fruit, vegetables, grains or beverages.
Myth #2: Avoid fats at all costs
I’ve heard athletes say, “I’m keeping my fat intake at a bare minimum.” In endurance sports, however, one of the primary sources of energy that helps you propel over the distance is actually the fat stores in the middle of the muscle. If you take that away, the body is going to go to door number two: burning muscle.
Myth #3: Don’t eat after a workout
There are many athletes who think that because they just exercised, they shouldn’t eat or drink anything except water. They don’t want to counteract all the calories they just burned. If you’re working out strenuously, however, it’s important to replenish your body—ideally within 30 minutes of exercising—otherwise you’ll feel lethargic and unable to push as hard as you’d like to in your next workout.
To refuel effectively, your body needs the right mix of carbs (yes, calories!) and protein to quickly restore muscle glycogen (your “gas tank”), high quality protein to repair damaged muscles, plus fluids and electrolytes to replenish what’s lost in sweat. I recommend low-fat chocolate milk to Hines and my other athletes as it has all of these benefits, plus there’s a lot of science that supports its recovery benefits. The fact that it’s a beverage is also a plus—many athletes don’t want to sit down to a full meal after a tough workout, and foods can sometimes be hard to digest.
Myth #4: Steer clear of salt
Salt has received a bad rap over the years. But sodium is actually a critical electrolyte that gets lost when you sweat—that explains the salty residue on your clothes or that stings your eyes after a strenuous workout. Athletes need to replenish the sodium lost in sweat, but they don’t need a lot to do so. In fact, the amount of sodium found in a recovery beverage is enough to do the trick.
Think again when you hear these types of exercise myths. Just because a statement sounds authoritative doesn’t mean it’s true. Being properly hydrated, fueled and refueled can help athletes get faster, grow stronger, last longer and recover more quickly. It’s a win-win all the way around.