Sports nutrition is not just about strict diets and protein shakes

By Catherine Orda | Lead photo by Hermes Rivera /Unsplash

If in one way or another you broke a sweat today, you probably have more in common with Olympic athletes than you were led to believe. That is, if a typical day for you normally consists of a 30-minute run or even just braving a trip of two flights of stairs, you should be paying attention to sports nutrition.

A good amount of people perform at least one physical activity every day, and whether or not going through these activities does their health any good has a lot to do with timing and nutrition. To put it another way, your exercise outcomes have a lot to do with the nutrition you are getting—and the timing with which you are getting them. This is what Dr. Dana Ryan, Herbalife’s senior manager for sports performance and education, means when she says that sports nutrition applies to everyone.

“Sports nutrition is for anybody [who’s] getting their heart rate up and sweating. You may not be Cristiano Ronaldo, but you’re still using carbohydrates and protein in the exact same way,” says Dr. Ryan, who has worked with the likes of Barcelona FC and LA Galaxy. Here are some fundamental rules of sports nutrition that apply to everyone:

Living a Healthy Active Lifestyle (and Why You Shouldn’t Focus on Diets)

“When we talk about living a healthy active lifestyle, we mean incorporating physical activity and good nutrition in an individual’s everyday life,” says Dr. Ryan. Diets, she adds, are not the focus of this lifestyle as they are simply not sustainable. When a person goes on a strict diet, there is often the negative psychological pressure of avoiding things—and the self-punishment that happens when you fail to avoid these things. “When we’re talking about a lifestyle, it’s all the things you can do. You get to tell yourself ‘I can do this, I can eat this, I can live this way.’ It brings more of a positive approach to everything,” Dr. Ryan explains.

No Gyms Necessary

Living a healthy active lifestyle simply means having good nutrition and finding means to incorporate movement into your day. The second part of that statement is key to the second rule. It’s necessary to find ways to sweat or get your heart rate up. Sports nutritionists recommend about 30 minutes of physical activity at least five days a week. And the good news is, this doesn’t mean going to the gym. “You can park your car a little farther in the parking lot. Take the stairs rather than taking the elevator. You can even do some squats while looking at your phone. There’s also a big trend moving towards standing desks and walking meetings in workplaces. Or walking meetings.” Dr. Ryan says

Good Nutrition Is Just as Important

Sports nutrition is about putting the right nutrients in your body at the right time. But as a lot of people aim for weight loss when working out, there’s always the tendency to not eat anything before, during, and after exercise. It turns out this is one of the absolute worst things you can do to your body. When you exercise, your muscle fibers break, you become dehydrated, and you increase your body temperature. Without any food, you’re making your body work extra hard to repair all this damage. Dr. Ryan recommends this simple routine: carbohydrates and electrolytes for pre-workout, and lots of protein within 30 minutes after the workout. Another thing: you can’t out-exercise a bad diet. You don’t want to spend all this time exercising just to undo what you ate.

Getting the Right Information

Sports nutrition is a growing industry, and while this is a good thing it also means more confusing and misleading information. There are superfoods that promise weight loss; food supplements that promise better athletic performance. Where can we turn then for accurate information on sports nutrition? “We’re always putting out good evidence-based information on nutrition. Go to health authority websites. Stay away from a product that claims to be the best, most amazing thing ever. Any sort of claim that’s going to cure everything is usually a red flag,” Dr. Ryan says.