How well do you think you manage your nutrition? Do you TRULY know which foods you should and shouldn’t eat? Is there a certain time that you stop eating because you think it will affect your digestion or weight? Are there certain foods that you should be eating if you’re injured? Whether you’re recovering from an injury or just want to know more about the do's and don'ts when it comes to nutrition, this post is for you. During an interview with Dietician, Matt Dengler, we go over some of the most common questions that athletes have and some of the answers might surprise you!
Should I eat a snack before I workout? If so, what should I eat?
WHAT you eat, depends on WHEN you eat.
If you’re working out early in the morning, you don’t HAVE to take anything in. Actually, eating something right before a workout could upset your stomach more often than not. If you’re one of those people that just HAS to get something on their stomach right when they wake up, reach for something high in carbs that the body can utilize and digest fast (like applesauce, raisins, or half of a banana).
If you’re working out in the evening, it is recommended that you eat a snack before. If you’re snacking at least 2 hrs before you workout, you can eat just about anything because you’ll have enough time to metabolize and digest it all.
If you’re eating 30 min to an hour before a workout, you should watch and limit your calories (100-200 cals) and fats (peanut butter, avocado, coconut oils, and butter spreads) because they slow down your metabolism and can cause GI (gastrointestinal) issues during workouts.
It’s important to realize that everyone is different. These are general concepts and the best thing you can do is listen to your body!
How does your diet affect recovery?
If you’re dealing with an injury, your diet can significantly affect how well you heal.
Depending on what the injury is, vitamin C and high protein can help rebuild tissue, especially in lacerations (cuts) and burns. Protein can help rebuild muscle and at least help not break it down any further than it already is. Fluids, water, vitamin D, and dark leafy greens help provide vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants to reduce inflammation and promote healing. Ginger and turmeric have also been found to reduce inflammation and boost recovery.
Whether you have an injury or not, recovery is key! A lot of us work 8+ hours a day, workout, have kids/spouses/pets to take care of etc. Stress is at an all time high with our lifestyles. Adding these food groups to your diet will work wonders in your overall health and recovery from daily life.
How can nutrition & recovery influence the risk of injury?
Did you know that your recovery and nutrition can indirectly influence your risk of injury? Reducing the amount of inflammation in your body can improve your mobility to allow you to function and perform at a higher level.
Additionally, sleep is a HUGE part of rebuilding and resetting the body and this cannot be overstated. It’s important that you get at least 6-8 hrs of sleep a night! This is something I’m sure we’ve all heard and talked about, but don’t always do. A sleep deprived person cannot focus attention optimally and therefore has an increased risk for error, mistakes, and injuries.
Are these common snacks/drinks good for you?
It depends! Some are better than others as far as ingredients.
The bigger question is WHY do you feel the need to drink an energy drink? Are you needing caffeine because you’re low in energy? Why is that? Either you’re not eating enough throughout the day or you’re not getting a good night's rest which makes you tired. Drinking an energy drink is just like covering those things up with a bandaid to get through the day or workout.
If you’re looking to boost performance, then yes, caffeine is one of the few ergogenic aids that will improve performance pre workout.
But how much is too much? The upper limit is about 400mg or 4 cups of coffee (this does change depending on gender and weight).
It’s also important that you’re aware of other ingredients in the drinks that provide energy or are stimulants, but aren’t necessarily caffeine. Also, be careful when making your heart race right before a workout. There’s been plenty of cases of highschool athletes drinking energy drinks before competitions and having heart attacks/dying on the playing field.
Bottom line: Find out WHY you feel the need to drink energy drinks. After all, if you STILL feel the need to drink caffeine, try drinking a cup of coffee instead! ~100 mg of caffeine and much cheaper!
They’re good in a pinch! Whether you’re in the airport, working, or on the go. They’re great to have in hand to get calories in and they’re better than nothing. But there’s more bad ones than good ones. Make sure you’re aware of how much sugar (<10-12g), protein (>15-20g), and carbs are in the bar. Choose low fat (<8g) if you’re about to workout and anywhere from 8-15g of fat if not.
RXBARs, ONE Protein Bars, Quest Protein Bars, Kirkland Signature Protein Bars, Vega & Plant Based Protein Bars are great choices.
Which is best? Keto, Paleo, Gluten Free, Intermittent Fasting?
Diets are very individualized! There’s no one size fits all. If it works for you and you feel good and you think it’s working, then it’s working! The best diet is the one you’ll actually follow.
Now that’s NOT to say you HAVE to diet to reach your goals and get results. I would rather you not follow the latest trends because they’re often really restrictive and hard to follow. Ultimately, restricting the amount of calories is what will help you lose weight and hit your goals.
Here’s where things can go wrong…
Anytime a diet tries to restrict a macronutrient (protein, carb, fat) - that’s a red flag! Macronutrients are the only things that give us energy, so why would you cut them out? If you completely eliminate carbs, then most of your diet is filled with protein and fats. These diets seem to work because you’re cutting out one big food group and it’s hard to overeat fat. But over time, your cardiovascular health becomes suppressed by eating mainly saturated fats. Even though carbs are easier to overconsume, it’s not the carb itself that’s the issue - it’s the overindulgence. Just as carbs don’t make you fat, fat doesn’t make you fat! It’s overall caloric intake overtime. Simple as that.
Similarly, intermittent fasting seems to work because you’re cutting out a huge part of the day where you would usually be eating. People usually try to limit their meal times to 12pm-8pm because if you’re fasting for 16 hours of the day, then there’s a lot less time for you to consume calories. However, this diet often backfires because a lot of people are usually starving by lunch and end up overeating, which defeats the purpose of the fast.
Bottom line: There’s a way to hit your goals WITHOUT having to do fad diets.
Simply put - Weight loss = Calories in < Calories expended.
Is it bad to eat right before bed?
No! It’s not bad to eat right before you go to bed. It’s an old wives tale that says you should stop consuming food by 7 or 8pm. The amount of calories don’t go up after 8pm and the body has no idea what time it is. Your body will still take in food and still break it down, no matter what time of day it is.
Now, there are certain foods that could potentially affect how well you sleep, such as eating a lot of fats right before bed. Fats may keep you up at night, so it’s best to avoid fatty foods right before bed.
Also, it’s best to not eat a lot of sugar or foods high in carbs right before bed. Carbs will be broken down into sugar and if not used, will be stored as fat. However, it is ok to eat high carb foods late at night if you just finished working out and need to replace the carbs you just used OR if you’re planning on working out first thing in the morning, then your body will use the sugar and you won’t have an issue.
Your nutrition plays a vital role in the overall health, state, and recovery of your body. Making simple little changes to your daily routine could have a profound effect on your ability to heal and/or maintain a healthy weight. After all, we only get one body so we better make sure that what we’re putting into it and what we put it through are worth it.
This is where we share our expert opinion on hot topics in physical therapy, injury prevention, sports performance, strength and conditioning, nutrition, and sometimes other random thoughts. Enjoy.