- Julie C.H. Brake, MS, RDN, LD
Fuel Your Activity
In the sports nutrition world, food is fuel. Of course that's true, but food is much more. It's vital, necessary, enjoyable, and comforting. In considering the topic for this blog, I realized I haven’t posted about sports nutrition in a while. I’ll consider writing more about how I help my husband finish ultra trail races. For now, I think it might help more people to go into more detail about how to fuel our activity. I want this information to apply to what’s happening now with the coronavirus quarantine, but as I set out to do when I started this blog, I intend to provide timeless advice that will help in different situations. Please remember that this is general advice and does not substitute for a personal consult with a Registered Dietitian!
Sometimes our level of activity changes. Sometimes it increases. If you’re bored and restless at home, you may start walking outside more. You may even start running some or maybe you even purchase a treadmill or a home gym. Sometimes activity decreases. You may have less free time because you are with a large family in the home. If we are injured, our activity often lessens or totally stops. If we move into a new stage of life, like going from walking across a college campus daily to a sedentary job or from a desk job to taking care of a toddler at home, our activity levels can be vastly different as well.
How does the body handle this change? Should we eat less if we know our activity is less and eat more if we know our activity went up? The body will adjust to tell you what it needs. We generally will eat more if we are more physically active, but the body also requires more nutrition under stress or increased anxiety. We need to trust our body to send us the signals to eat, and then we simply need to pay attention to our hunger and fullness cues. If we try to predict what the body needs, we will end up under- or over-fueling. External rules should not fully dictate what we eat.
Giving ourselves the opportunity to eat five to six times daily allows us to be in tune with what our bodies are telling us. When we are too busy or distracted to stop and eat, we may not notice how hungry we are. If we are distracted while we eat or rushing through a meal to get to the next thing on the schedule, we may not notice when our body is signaling that it has had enough nutrition. Setting up a basic pattern for eating is helpful in being mindful about meeting the body’s needs. It makes things easier if our eating pattern stays mostly the same or very similar from day to day, but patterns and timing can change if that works better for the schedule. Until eating patterns are more innate, make an effort to plan meals and snacks to meet nutrition needs.
As long as you don’t have a medical condition that interferes with appropriate hunger and fullness signaling, you can rely on your body to tell you what it needs and what it doesn’t. Don’t second guess your body’s signals! You will only end up being overly hungry or overly full. I also advise not trying to trick your body. Doing things like drinking a full glass of water before eating to induce quick fullness will only lead to being extra hungry later or even waking up in the middle of the night needing food. If you feel extra hungry at an unusual time or don't feel hungry when you usually do, mindfully consider whether this is your genuine signal. If it is, follow it!
If you are engaging in long periods of physical activity, stay well hydrated before you begin and drink fluids during activity. For activity longer than 30 minutes, you will need more fluids and a little glucose, which can be in the form of sports drinks. For activity longer than 60 minutes, you will likely need more nutrition in addition to fluids. Consider what is best tolerated during the type of activity you are doing. Having adequate nutritional intake in general will ensure that your body is ready for activity, too. In warmer weather, have extra fluids available and keep it cool if you can. For advice on specific foods and timing, consult with a Registered Dietitian specializing in sports nutrition.
As we navigate changing times together, these tips should guide you through various short-term and longer-term changes in physical activity. If you want more personalized advice, contact a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RD or RDN), and feel free to contact Positive Nutrition for help with connections, even if you are not in metro Atlanta or Georgia.
Eat well and prosper!
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