6 Sports Nutrition Myths Answered

Essentia Health dietitian offers nutrition tips for runners

When it comes to sports nutrition, runners may receive mixed messages about “the best” or “tried and true” ways to fuel up for race day. And, when it comes to gearing up for that long training run or the big race, your nutrition can make or break your performance, and impact your health. So, what, you ask is the truth and what’s a myth?

Heather Pitschka, RD, CDE, of Essentia Health offers truths to six of the most common sports nutrition myths:

1. MYTH: It’s important to “carb load” the night before the race.
TRUTH: Pitschka recommends eating a balanced diet, while adding one carbohydrate-rich food per day beginning three to seven days prior to the race, as well as decreasing exercise to burn less muscle glycogen (storage form of carbohydrate).

2. MYTH: Most runners eat enough carbs.

TRUTH: It takes planning to eat healthfully. Often times foods we may consider to be a good source of carbs – such as a piece of pizza – may actually contain more fat than carbohydrate. We also may think of an alcoholic beverage as a source of carbs, though it is important to consider that the body metabolizes the carbohydrates in a beer differently than the carbohydrates in an apple, for example.

3. MYTH: You can never drink too much water.

TRUTH: While hydration is an important factor in both training and on race day, drinking too much water can lead to Hyponatremia (a condition in which not enough sodium is present in the blood, usually due to dilution). Slower and lesser trained marathoners may be at risk. Pitschka suggests runners aim to drink ½ cup to 1 cup of water every 15 – 20 minutes during the race. She also suggests taking in some carbohydrate and sodium along the way, such as the Powerade ION4 offered on the race course, to help prevent this condition.

4. MYTH: You need to eat a lot of protein to build muscle.

TRUTH: Pitschka advises that recreational athletes need 0.8 – 1 gram per kilogram of body weight in protein to be healthy and build muscle. Example: 150 lb. person = 68 kg and should consume 55 – 68 grams of protein per day. 60 grams of protein = 2 cups milk, 1 container of yogurt and 5 ounces of meat. Too much protein, like too much carbohydrate becomes our body’s storage (fat).

5. MYTH: A cup of coffee and pancakes is the perfect pre-race meal.

TRUTH: “Do not eat or drink anything on race day that you haven’t used in training. Be sure to have foods with you if you are traveling, and watch for too much fiber,” says Pitschka. While coffee may help with performance, don’t use it if you’re “caffeine naive” – it can be dehydrating and have a laxative effect.

6. MYTH: It doesn’t matter what I eat after the race.

TRUTH: It’s important to replenish your glycogen stores following the race for energy and muscle healing. “4 grams of carb to 1 gram protein as soon as possible after the race is the perfect recovery ratio,” says Pitschka. Example: chocolate milk OR a meat sandwich and fruit.

Runners who would like a personalized dietary analysis can sign up for Essentia Health’s Runners Injury Prevention & Performance program. A dietitian who focuses on sports nutrition will make recommendations to maximize nutrition for peak performance during training and competition. The program also offers components that include a running gait analysis and an exercise profile. Please call (218) 786-5410 to learn more.