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The 10 Best Sports Nutrition Tips

This is a guest post from my girl, Ilana, sports nutritionist extraordinaire at Optimal Nutrition for Life.


Many recreational athletes have a difficult time with weight management, especially those that took on the training as a reason for weight loss in the first place. It perplexes them when they then discover the weight gain, instead of expected and anticipated weight loss.

Don’t feel alone, this actually a very common phenomenon. There are a number of reasons for this.

First, athletes tend to build denser muscle as they are losing fat, especially in the first months of their new training program. It does not necessarily mean you are “fatter” just because the number on the scale is higher. Density shows up on a scale. It is therefore better to monitor progress by body composition rather than a weight. Monitor the looseness of your clothes, get someone to measure you with a tape measure, and get a body fat test done every few months.

Notice in this visual how different fat and muscle are in size, density and texture. These both represent 5 lbs:

Okay, then after your body becomes adaptive to your exercise, and body composition changes slowly stabilizes, then yes, the scale should start shifting somewhat (but never drastically, because although the muscle begins to burn fat, it is still getting denser). If, at this point, you feel like you are “gaining, rather than “losing” it may be time to budget on the difference between calories in and calories out. I, as a dietitian, prefer not to use calorie counting as a means to fat loss, but every now and then, an audit, so to speak, may become necessary.  Why? Well….

…many endurance athletes tend to over compensate for workouts. Does this ring true “well I ran 17 miles today, so I deserve to eat anything that is not nailed down”?

Or, for some it may even be the other end of the continuum, where they refuse to eat, because the calories add up. For those that do not eat enough, their bodies will adaptively become efficient fat storing machines. Always keep in mind, human physiology is a mechanism of survival. This means that if you are not providing the required fuel essential for life, your body will store every minute grain that you DO give it. It also adapts and moves into survival mode by using the stored fat (our reserve tank of energy) very, very efficiently, and that translates to “slowly” !! So if you are perplexed as to why you cannot lose a milligram on a scale, yet you have increased on work out intensity and time, and you are not eating very much… then its time to reassess your metabolic efficiency.

Here are the 10 best tips to help avoid these pitfalls…

  1. Rev up your metabolism by eating within 30 minutes of waking up, even if its pre workout. If you have a hard time eating before a work out, start off with half a banana to get used to it, its easily digestible, high in carbs and low in fiber, which contribute to a more efficient work out.
  2. Recover with a 3:1 carb to protein ratio combination as soon after your work out as possible. Some good examples of this ratio is a protein shake with 1 scoop of protein and at least 2 servings of fruit and some milk or yogurt blended together, or low fat chocolate milk, or a Mix OneT and a fruit. Do not forget to use protein as part of the recovery meal. It begins the rebuild and recovery of muscles as well as makes you feel more satisfied, decreasing the temptation to eat anything not tied down to the table, after many hours of intense activity.
  3. Eat lots of fruit and vegetables throughout the day. These superfoods are high in antioxidants which combat off the build up of free radicals from exercise, as well as high in vitamins and minerals that keep your metabolic pathways working efficiently and effectively.
  4. Keep a food log daily. Patterns of issues will be evident thus providing you with valuable data. A problem cannot be fixed unless you have the data to get to the root of it. Furthermore, logs make you self accountable to your goals and your current focus.
  5. Always have a sports nutrition strategy, for both training and racing. Plan in segments eg. How many grams of carbs either mile by mile or in 15-20 minute blocks. Plan textures and products, eg. Liquids (GatoradeT, acceleradeT), solids (sports beans, shot bloks) or semi solids (gels). Research has shown that those athletes that fuel correctly and don’t avoid sports nutrition because of their high caloric content, actually land up eating less the rest of their long work out days, than those that avoid sports nutrition, trying to save calories.  
  6. Know your carbs. Fuel accordingly. Pre work out and post work out carbs can be higher in (GI) Glycemic Index compared to the rest of the meals in a day, where slower burning carbs would be more appropriate. If you are not sure of the different fuel burning rate of carbs, good examples of fast are sports drinks, gels, and shot bloks, also banana and potato. Slower burning would be whole grain products, whole grains themselves (like brown rice, barley, quinoa), legumes, oats (more fibrous carbs slow the fuel burn rate). See other articles in this regard the MY sports nutrition article library too (
  7. Stay constantly hydrated. Goal pre workout is to be hydrated, goal during workout is to keep replacing losses, goal after workout is to rehydrate and replenish electrolytes from sweat loss.
  8. Experiment with nutrition during training. Never try new products during a race and do not regress from the sports nutrition strategy you had designed for a particular race.
  9. Use safe and effective carbo loading strategies starting about a week before a race. Tapering exercise and switching carbs to a higher percentage at least 3 days before a race, leading up to the race is the most effective way of carbo loading. Do not over eat the night before or the early morning before a race. 
  10. Eat nutrient dense food (rich in color and fiber) versus calorie dense food with limited nutrients (such as sodas and candy). Body stores carbs in limited amounts therefore eating smaller meals more often throughout the day will aid in maintaining well fueled muscles constantly, rather than 2 or 3 big meals a day which just slows down the metabolism.

All these tips in combination will lead to most optimal fuel.

The moral of this story is that if you appropriately adapt a sports nutrition strategy, you will not feel like you have deserved to eat yourself into a coma after every long work out, and you will also get enough calories so that your physiology moves away from becoming too efficient and thus moves away from storing everything you consume as fat. 

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Ilana Katz is a licensed dietitian in Atlanta, specializing in sports nutrition and body composition. She is a triathlete and Ironman. Ilana is in private practice as well as consulting to coaches, doctors and corporations.

She works with many local celebrities, elite athletes, recreational athletes and those ready to look good at the beach. Whether your goal is to be a leaner, thus faster athlete or work on body composition and weight management or just find your optimal energy, her Metabolic Boost program can see you to your goal.  You can find her at

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