I see two common fueling mistakes, which usually go hand in hand, when I work with high school athletes: drinking sports drinks all day long and not eating enough food throughout the day.
Proper hydration plays a vital role in how well your body works. Water helps blood transport fuel, oxygen and fats to working muscles, and carries waste products, such as carbon dioxide and lactic acid, away from muscles. During exercise, water absorbs heat from muscles, regulates body temperature, lubricates joints, and cushions organs and tissues. Since your body loses water throughout the day and then even more during exercise, staying hydrated is important to maintain performance. The recommended goal is to drink a half to one full ounce of fluid per pound of body weight per day for optimal hydration. An example: a 150-pound athlete should drink 75 to 100 ounces per day.
While most of what you drink should be water, sports drinks, juice and milk count, too. Sports drinks are formulated to work most efficiently for activity that lasts longer than an hour. They help replenish carbs and energy, and replace important electrolytes, like sodium and potassium, for hydration. If you don’t replace enough of the fluid and electrolytes you lost through sweating during activities, you put yourself at risk of dehydration. Side effects include fatigue, headaches, muscle cramps, nausea, vomiting, confusion, weakness and decreased performance. Hydrate consistently throughout the day with water. Save juice and milk for meals and sports drinks for practice and games.
By now, most athletes have heard it’s best to eat four to six small meals throughout the day. This means starting your day off with breakfast, and then eating every two and a half to three hours. A great eating day includes breakfast, lunch and dinner with a mini-meal between each. This will preserve your muscle mass and keep your energy levels constant and metabolism running. Make the time to eat breakfast and lunch; and so you don’t grab snacks from the vending machine, keep on hand high-fiber cereal bars, fresh fruit, trail mix or half a sandwich to eat throughout the day. Include a wholesome source of carbs, lean protein, good fat and a fruit or vegetable with each meal and snack. A breakfast example is a bowl of oatmeal with strawberries and some eggs. For a snack, try an apple with almonds.
Start your eating early and finish with a healthy snack after dinner. This will keep your body and brain optimally fueled. Using a plan to fuel your body consistently with the right type and amount of food and fluids throughout the day will help you avoid the two common mistakes.
Megan Mangano, RD, is a performance nutritionist for Athletes’ Performance in Los Angeles. She specializes in educating professional, college prep and high school athletes about optimal nutrition for health and sports performance.