Sports Nutrition: Myth or Fact?
By Dietitian Stephanie Dang
There is a lot of nutrition information out there – I mean a LOT. From juice cleanses, to carbohydrate free diets, to raw food diets, it seems as if everyone has a “miracle” food cure for all your problems. Unfortunately, a miracle food or miracle diet doesn’t exist. And although it takes more effort because it’s not a quick-fix, a well-balanced, healthy diet paired with a healthy lifestyle is really what works! Unfortunately, a lot of the nutrition recommendations found on the internet, magazines, or social media aren’t backed by research or evidence. In this post, we will discuss the most common sports nutrition-related myths & facts that clients ask me about, and talk about the science behind them.
Before reading the answers to the following statements, try to think whether you think they are true or false.
- Protein consumption is so important because amino acids are the preferred fuel source for muscles
Myth. And if you got this one wrong, that’s OK because most athletes do! Protein is NOT our muscles’ preferred fuel source. Carbohydrates are actually the preferred fuel source for your muscles (and brain!). During short, high intensity bouts of exercise (for example, sprints), carbohydrates are the only energy source that can fuel your body quickly enough. In fact, during the first few minutes of exercise, carbohydrates almost exclusively meet your energy demands. Your ability to keep a high level of intensity throughout your entire workout largely relies on your body’s carbohydrate stores. But you might be wondering, what about fat? Isn’t fat used as an energy source? Well the long and short of it is that carbohydrates are needed in order to metabolize fat, and this process also takes longer. So when you’re needing to do high intensity exercise, fat is not an efficient fuel source. So remember, fuel = energy = carbohydrates = your muscles’ preferred fuel source! Carbohydrates and good not bad!
- Post-workout nutrition is actually more important than pre-workout nutrition.
Myth. They’re equally important! Just like how breakfast is not actually the most important meal of the day. Breakfast is definitely important to fuel your body for the day ahead, but it’s just as important as lunch or dinner. Similarly, pre workout nutrition is essential to keep your body fuelled for your workout. If you aren’t adequately fuelled, your performance suffers, and therefore your post workout nutrition is inadvertently less effective as well.
- Juice cleanses are a great way to lose weight.
Myth. As a dietitian, I will never recommend a juice cleanse to anyone! Not only is it not a sustainable or healthy way to lose weight, it lacks many different nutrients (and usually creates a large dent in your bank account!). Evidence shows that fast weight loss (“fad diets”), especially when done by cutting out food groups, is not sustainable long term. In other words, you will lose weight fast, but gain it back (plus more usually) just as quickly. Additionally, fad diets often lack many nutrients. For example, juice cleanses lack fibre, protein, complex carbohydrates, fat, and many vitamins and minerals including calcium, iron, and vitamin D. Plus, juice cleanses are expensive! Making small dietary changes and losing weight gradually is the best way to lose weight and keep it off.
- Registered Dietitians and Registered Holistic Nutritionists are the same
Myth. I like to include this myth to assure all athletes that they are getting evidence-based, accurate nutrition information. In British Columbia, “nutritionist” is not a regulated health profession nor is it a protected title. This means that nutritionists are not subject to any regulatory or government oversight, unlike dietitians. No specific qualifications are needed to be a nutritionist, so anyone with an interest in nutrition can use it. Across Canada the title “dietitian’ is protected by law, just like physician, pharmacist, or nurse. Dietitians need to be registered with a regulatory body, such as the College of Dietitians of British Columbia. Additionally, because it’s a regulated health profession, many extended health care plans also cover the services of a dietitian. In B.C., dietitians must have a five-year university degree in nutrition with at least 1250 hours of supervised, hands-on training, pass a national competence examination and undergo regular criminal record checks. Sports dietitians have combined knowledge in several topics, including clinical nutrition, nutrition science, exercise physiology, and application of evidence-based research, in addition to being passionate about sports! To read more, please read the Vancouver Sun article found here:
- Cramps are caused by not eating enough potassium
Myth. What we know about cramps is that the main risk factors include premature muscle fatigue, previous occurrence of cramps during exercise, increased exercise intensity and duration, and inadequate conditioning. Nutritionally, inadequate glycogen stores (not enough carbohydrate) and/or low energy availability may contribute to fatigue, and therefore cramping. So how do we prevent cramps? Evidence suggests that cramping results from muscle fatigue, so adequate training/conditioning, rest, and stretching appear to be the best ways to prevent cramps. Nutritionally, ensuring you are adequately fuelled and hydrated will help prevent fatigue, and subsequently may prevent cramping as well.
- Vegetarian athletes can perform equally as well as non-vegetarian athletes, even when consuming plant-based protein.
Fact. A well-planned and well-balanced vegetarian diet can support athletic performance equally as well as a non-vegetarian diet. Some good plant-based proteins include soy (tofu, edamame, tempeh), quinoa, nuts, seeds, and legumes. In fact, vegetarian proteins have excellent health benefits due to their low fat (specifically saturated fat) and high fibre content. Lacto-ovo vegetarians also have the option of dairy products and eggs, which are also high quality protein sources. If you are a vegetarian athlete or thinking of becoming vegetarian and you want some help optimizing your diet, please contact Ashley Miller to book an individual nutrition session at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Skipping breakfast will help me lose weight because it means I’m eating less calories.
Myth. In fact, many studies suggest that skipping breakfast causes people to overeat at night. This being said, there are definitely healthier breakfasts than others. Having a healthy breakfast including carbohydrates, fibre, protein, and healthy fats can be a great way to start your day. For example, a slice of whole grain toast with peanut butter and ½ a sliced banana with a glass of low-fat milk would be a good choice.
If you have more nutrition questions, or want to learn how to optimize your diet, check out the Richmond Oval’s Nutrition Services page at http://richmondoval.ca/fitness-wellness/nutrition-services/.
To book a nutrition counselling session, contact Ashley Miller at email@example.com or 778-296-1453.
American College of Sports Medicine, American Dietetic Association, Dietitians of Canada. (2009). Nutrition and athletic performance. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 41, 709-731.
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Fuels used in exercise: Carbohydrate and fat. (2008). Handbook of sports medicine and science: Sports nutrition (pp. 15-25) Blackwell Science Ltd.
Micronutrients: Vitamins and minerals. (2008). Handbook of sports medicine and science: Sports nutrition (pp. 35-46) Blackwell Science Ltd.
Phillips, S. & Van Loon, L. (2011). Dietary protein for athletes: from requirements to optimum adaptation, Journal of Sports Sciences, 29 Suppl 1, S29-38.
Protein and amino acid requirements of athletes. (2008). Handbook of sports medicine and science: Sports nutrition (pp. 26-34) Blackwell Science Ltd.
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“Sports Dietitians Australia.” Sports Dietitians Australia (SDA). SDA, n.d. Web. 20 Nov. 2016.