Fueling an Athlete

By MADELINE STRASSER

Today, people are constantly told to buy different protein bars and energy gels while following certain diets in order to become stronger, faster, or leaner. It can be hard to look past the shiny wrapping and large print on grocery store packing to decipher what is actually being sold. Often, we end up buying unnecessary products. 

Either consciously or not, we think that if we consume protein shakes or CLIF Shot Bloks, we will become great athletes and achieve our goals. While these products can be beneficial to our fitness objectives, they are not the only way we can achieve these goals. Instead, one can use fundamental ideas of sports nutrition to make choices that can be both healthier and more economical.

When you think about the diets of athletes, you likely think of the protein shake. Undoubtedly, you have probably seen people carrying these around campus. Protein is a “good” thing for athletes to consume, but why? It is an essential element for building and maintaining muscle, which is why athletes should have protein-rich diets. When you work out for a long time ,or at high intensity, the muscles in your body are damaged and later repair to a stronger state. Eating protein-rich foods after a workout help repair and grow the muscle that was damaged during exercise. Extremely high-protein foods, such as the famous protein shake, are best consumed shortly after working out.

The protein shake is really just a convenient way to get more protein into your body after exercise. However, protein shakes can often be expensive. Additionally, protein drinks usually contain whey, a milk derivative, which is not suitable for anyone who is vegan or following a dairy-free diet. Good alternatives to whey protein include hummus, nuts (including almonds, peanuts, and cashews), lentils, beans, or dairy free protein powders. Next time you hit the gym, consider bringing carrots and hummus, trail mix, or a homemade chickpea and black bean snack mix.

While high protein foods are best consumed soon after a workout, it is extremely important to eat within 30 minutes of exercise. These post-workout foods should have a high amount of carbohydrates because exercise uses a lot of carbs, requiring intake of both protein and carbohydrates to recover. A good rule of thumb is to eat a snack with a 3:1 or 4:1 carbohydrate to protein ratio. This ratio is why protein and energy bars are so popular and touted in such high regard: 1 CLIF bar contains 44g of carbohydrates and 10g of protein, providing substantial and beneficial recovery fuel with both the necessary carbohydrates that must be replaced and the protein to help build and repair the muscles that were used in the workout. However, like protein drinks, CLIF bars are expensive and are not gluten-free for those with dietary restrictions. Similarly effective and less expensive alternatives to energy bars are chocolate milk (high in both protein and carbohydrates), peanut butter and banana, or rice cakes, trail mix with craisins or raisins, and cheese and crackers. Although sometimes difficult to find, protein and carbohydrates are important elements in the diet of an athlete.

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