Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Sport and Nutrition


I finally find the time to write about the second part of my conclusions on my meeting with a sports nutritionist! In a previous post, I described the phases of hydration before-during-after effort. Now I will focus on what (is recommended) to eat, how and when, and how to optimize both your digestion and the energy supply for good effort conditions.  I know that this is quite a long post but you will probably find a useful tip or two!

are needed in order to complete your DIGESTION. 

This leads to a couple of comments:
  • It is not recommended to do physical activity immediately after eating, the best choice being 3 hours after food intake.
  • Every 3 hours, you need to refuel.
The best meal will be the one that supplies you with energy while being easy to digest. Once you've got the clues, it becomes quite easy to make the optimum choices for your pre-effort meal.

Let's go through the main meals of a day in order to clarify the principles...


You should get PROTEINS for your muscles' building and performance, and you should choose food with good energy capacity, i.e. food that has the capacity of supplying you with energy, more or less quickly according to your objectives. In order to do so, you should juggle with the notions of slow and fast sugars, the two categories of CARBOHYDRATES.

What is the difference between slow and fast sugars?
Let's keep it simple. "Slow" and "fast" stand for the rapidity your body will take to digest them. The more complex the molecules, the more time it takes to assimilate them. The later they are assimilated (i.e. the longer they wait in your stomach), the later they arrive to your muscle cells.
According to that, you must have concluded that 1) slow sugars are complex carbohydrates while fast sugars are simple carbohydrates, and that 2) if your physical effort is imminent you should opt for fast sugars, while if your effort is later in the day you may have slow sugars.
A couple of classified examples of slow/fast sugars:
- Slow sugars: cereal bread, kiwi, apple, orange... fibers slow down the digestion. 
- Fast sugars: white bread, corn flakes, banana.
NB. The action of "puffing" or "flaking" cereals explode the starch molecules: they go from complex to simple in the process, that is why puffed cereals and corn flakes are super-fast sugars.

Suggestion of breakfast preceding physical effort:
  • Proteins: ham, cottage cheese.
  • Energy capacity food: white bread and/or banana, according to your appetite and your digestive capacities.
  • Avoid too much sugar, i.e. jam, honey, fruit juice... NB: fruit juice is a good recovery element during the afternoon snack for example.
  • Tea or coffee.

Why you should avoid drinking milk.
Because you are an adult, because you are a sportsperson and because animal milk contains lactose. As you grow up, you have less and less enzyme to digest lactose. It is a kid's drink! Furthermore, this enzyme is inactivated during physical effort, so that milk is particularly not recommended for sportspersons.
However, rice and soy milks, not being animal products, do not contain lactose and are accepted in a sports diet.

What you should eat your bread with in the morning.
Sugar Vs. Honey: You would be inclined to say that honey is better than sugar, nutritively speaking. It is true that honey has some minerals, etc. which are not present in sugar. However let's not forget that 1 individual portion of honey (20g) is equivalent to 3 of sugar... Honey is not the best bet for such a breakfast.
As you must have realized, jam and honey are not in favor here. On the other hand, you can have butter or margarine, they will be well assimilated at the beginning of the day!

How to optimize the digestion of your breakfast.
  • Drink a glass of water at least 15min before starting your breakfast, in order to rehydrate yourself and gently wake up your digestive tract. You may add lemon juice (without sugar) to help lymphatic draining.
  • Do not fill up your stomach with "useless" food.
  • Limit the quantity of "useful" food. The more you have to digest, the longer it takes. The quantity depends on various parameters: the proximity of your effort, your digestive capacities...
  • Limit the volume of liquid. Liquids not only drown your stomach but they also dilute the gastric juice, so that it may be less efficient and slow down the digestion even more.


Now that you know the main points on which you have to focus for your sports diet, the rest should be quicker to describe.
If your lunch precedes your physical effort, then you should focus on fast sugars and food that is easy to digest.
  • Fast sugars: starches, white bread, cooked fruits or bananas
  • Slow(er) sugars:  cereal bread, raw vegetables and fruits (others than bananas)
Suggestion of lunch preceding physical effort:
  • Starter: cooked vegetables or starches (beetroot, French beans... tabbouleh...)
  • Main dish: fish (the flesh is easier to digest than that of meat) and starches (pasta, rice...) Let's also note that there is as much, and sometimes more, protein in 100g of fish than in 100g of meat. Avoid red meat as it is very acid and thus bad for your muscles. As for soy steaks, they have more fibers and are consequently less digest. Try to avoid sauces as they make dishes longer to digest too. You can have a dash of oil instead.
  • Dessert: low-fat dairy product and/or cooked fruits. No raw fruits except bananas.
  • Bread: white.

For normal lunches with no physical effort on the horizon, you can have raw vegetables as a starter, accompany your fish or your meat with vegetables (a good option being half-starches half-veg) and take a raw fruit for dessert for example. You may also swap white bread for cereal bread.

How to optimize the digestion of your lunch.
You should take into consideration the same tips as for breakfast and add:
  • Stop drinking at least 15min before.
  • Do not drink while eating, max one or two glasses, not to drown your digestive tract.
  • Wait at least 1 hour before drinking again. The digestion process taking 3 hours, at 1 hour your stomach should be empty by one third, which leaves room to water.


The snack in the mid-afternoon is important as it is the bridge between lunch and dinner. It supplies sufficient but necessary energy in-between two separated food intakes.

Suggestion of snack
  • One fruit
  • One dairy product

Why you should be careful with cheese.
As a proud Frenchie, I love cheese. Unfortunately, and it is no breaking news, cheese is fatty. And this is not (just) a figure problem. Fat makes digestion harder and longer, not forgetting that it is a source of calories that are not directly used as fuel for your body, but are stocked... And that is not all: cheese is the most acidifying food -- even more than red meat. Acid is prejudicial to muscle anabolism...
Anyway, if you don't have any practice planned in your day, you can switch with your cottage cheese at breakfast or with your yoghurt at lunch...


For dinner you don't need fast sugars. I would even say that it would be a tactical mistake: all unused fast sugars will be stocked and added to your body fat.
On the other hand, it is the occasion to take slow sugars, which are longer to digest. But you don't mind as sleeping is not too physical an activity, right?


This is the last point and not the least. How can you get energy during effort? The main problem is that digesting takes time, so that if you take food just before or during the effort, the energy will be supplied to your body a good while later, and it will probably be too late.

  1. The first solution is: getting a performance drink. I'm talking about sports dietary drinks supplying carbohydrates, not about all those sweetened drinks that took the opportunity of riding the wave of success. See previous post for more details. 
  2. You can also get the same result of carbs supply with sports dietary food, like energy gels or protein bars. According to the products, they should be taken 30 min before or during the effort. See conditions of use. Just as performance drinks, performance food is subject to lots of quality constraints. Be sure to get products with serious labels on them, such as Wall Protect. A couple of safe brands: Punch Power, Overstim.s...
 Here again, let's not mistake energy bars and cereal bars!
...Just as you should not mistake performance drinks and sweetened drinks and sodas. Cereal bars are very often loaded with too much sugar which can lead to acid waste. Plus, the fat in them is not always of good quality and can lead to inflammation. Bad "sugars" = bad energy supply.

Thank you, brave reader who held on 'til the last line!


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