Editor's Note: Before STACK Expert Roberta Jenero became a successful licensed dietitian, she was an avid athlete, just like you. Twenty-five years of experience in her chosen profession have provided her with a plethora of nutritional information to help her athlete-clients fuel their bodies for optimal health and weight management. Here are the top ten things she knows now that she wishes she had known when she was competing.
What my body's needs were.
If I had known this, I would have been able to ensure that I was meeting them, and I would have adjusted my food intake in the off-season. I now understand this, and it is liberating to be free of concern in this area. (See Maintain Consistent Nutrition Habits.)
How to control changes in appetite.
It seemed that when my activity dropped off, my appetite increased and so did my weight. I now realize that activity can suppress your appetite. Knowing what I needed to eat would have been helpful during the times when my appetite peaked on days that I was not active.
What foods help suppress or control appetite to help with weight management.
Eating more dietary fiber from fruits and vegetables, drinking adequate fluids and having some protein at meals and snacks all serve as natural appetite suppressants. (Read Fill Up on Fiber (But Not Before Competition.)
Why sweat burns your eyes.
Drinking water dilutes the salt in sweat so it is not so irritating to your skin. No more burning eyes.
How the body's metabolism works.
I used to think that if I ate a treat like a 300-calorie brownie, I would have to work out to burn it off. I now know that when you engage in cardiovascular activity, it increases your per-minute calorie expenditure from one to two calories per minute at rest to five to six calories per minute or more during the activity. Depending on the activity, your per minute calorie level stays elevated for hours afterwards. This increases the body's metabolism, which contributes to more calories being burned in a 24-hour period.
How much fluid I needed around activity.
By the time you feel thirsty, you are 10% behind in fluids. To make sure I stay hydrated, I have at least a cup of water before exercising, two cups afterward and a cup every hour after that. (See Hydration for Successful Sports Performance.)
How sugar does not provide a sustained energy level.
Sugar may elicit a temporary high, but it eventually leaves you feeling fatigued, which contributes to the urge to eat sooner than necessary. Now I reach for whole grains, nuts or nut bars, fruits and yogurt to help sustain my energy.
How caffeine can decrease blood flow to the heart during physical activity.
I thought that burst of energy from caffeine enhanced my performance. Now I look to foods, especially foods with protein and complex carbohydrates, to step up my game.
How frequently I should eat.
Did you realize that your liver glycogen depletes about every three hours. For sustained energy and optimal performance, it's best to eat something every three hours to keep your body's engine running efficiently.
What are considered healthy snacks and how much food constitutes a snack.
Check out Figure Facts Teens in the iTunes App Store for some healthy snack suggestions and a way to estimate and track your body's caloric, fluid and nutrient needs. Also check out STACK articles: Three Great Snacks for Athletes, Pro Plates: Snacks and Stay Energized for Training With Simple Snacks.