UK HealthCare

Fuel Your Body Like an Athlete

Blond doctor in black shirt
Dr. Kim Kaiser

LEXINGTON, Ky. (March 6, 2017) — With spring fast approaching, many people will begin running races, playing tennis, hiking and enjoying other outdoor activities. It can be difficult to navigate the plethora of information on eating to improve athletic performance, but it is possible to make adjustments that work for you.

Question: Should I eat before I exercise?

Answer: Your body needs energy in the form of calories to maintain exercise. However, too much food or the wrong food can cause gastrointestinal issues especially in endurance athletes. As a general rule, the closer you are to a workout, the simpler the meal should be. If you eat two to three hours before exercise, food will have time to digest and be absorbed from the GI tract into the blood.  A good pre-workout meal contains both complex and simple carbs such as whole wheat toast with a banana or a smoothie made with Greek yogurt, granola and fruit. 

Question: What should I eat to help my body recover after exercise?

Answer: Dietary proteins are effective for the maintenance and repair of skeletal muscle proteins. They also serve as a source of energy in conjunction with carbs and fats. Eating whole foods high in protein like beef, poultry, fish, beans, nuts, eggs or dairy are better in general than supplementing. Typically, a well-balanced diet will eliminate the need to ingest extra protein.

Question: Will fat help or hurt my performance?

Answer: Fat is a necessary fuel for endurance exercise along with carbohydrate. Your carbohydrate stores are depleted within 1-2 hours of strenuous exercise so your body then uses fat as energy. Fats are also necessary to help absorb fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. Saturated fats should be limited as diets higher in these are more likely to cause heart disease.

Question: Do I need to take vitamins to perform better?

Answer: Eating whole foods whenever possible is ideal. A food diary can help identify if there are deficiencies in your normal diet which can then be supplemented under the direction of a physician and/or sports dietician. In general, taking a daily multivitamin is a safe way to ensure you are meeting vitamin and mineral needs. It’s important to remember that supplements are not regulated by the FDA; thus, most claims are not backed by scientific studies, and purity is not guaranteed.

We aren’t all destined for the Olympics, but many of us set our own athletic goals that we hope to achieve. By eating well, food can help you achieve those goals and make you feel like you won the gold!

Dr. Kimberly Kaiser is an Assistant Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery and Sports Medicine and Family and Community Medicine and Team Physician for UK Athletics.