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Nutrition Mistakes Athletes Make & How to Fix Them

In addition to helping people with weight loss, I'm also board certified in sports dietetics (CSSD). I regularly work with active people in numerous sports at all levels of play, from weekend warriors to college and professional athletes. A big part of my job is preventing injuries and optimizing performance, but many athletes also want to lean down. And sometimes, no matter how consistently or hard you train, eating out of sync can prevent you from seeing results. Here are five common missteps I see and how to fix them:

MISTAKE #1: Drinking a protein shake before a workout. Protein is digested much slower than carbs, so too much protein pre-workout can give you stomach cramps and delay the absorption of carbs, which prevents them from becoming available to fuel your muscles during exercise. And that can stop body fat from being burned efficiently. THE FIX: Pre-workout, keep it light. Choose easy to digest carbs with a small amount of protein and/or healthy fat, enough to help regulate your blood sugar, but not create that brick-sitting-in-your-stomach feeling. A good example is a slice of whole grain bread lightly spread with almond butter and a small glass of organic skim or soy milk.

MISTAKE #2: Exercising on an empty stomach. It's physiologically impossible to burn pure body fat, so the theory than working out hungry does just that isn’t true. During aerobic exercise you burn a combo of carbs and fat. When carbs aren't readily available, your body is forced to break down its own muscle mass and convert it into blood sugar. That means by skipping breakfast, you eat away at your own muscle instead of building it, and that can slow down your metabolism. THE FIX: Try to eat something at least 20 minutes before the start of your workout – the example from #1 is a good choice.

MISTAKE #3: Misusing energy bars. Overeating bars can cause you to "eat back" the calories you burned exercising and prevent you from seeing results. A lot of my clients eat a bar post workout and a full meal a few hours later, which is overload since many bars pack the nutrition equivalent of a turkey sandwich. THE FIX: If you eat a “recovery” bar within an hour of ending your workout, think of it as a mini meal, and when you eat dinner a few hours later, keep it light. For example, if you make a stir-fry, pump up the veggies and eat smaller portions of lean protein (chicken, seafood or tofu) and a whole grain (like brown or wild rice).

MISTAKE #4 - Not eating enough fat. Every cell in the human body is partially made out of fat, including muscle, so "good" fat is needed to heal and repair post-workout. Without adequate fat, you can stay sore and not see results (e.g. firm, toned muscles, etc.). THE FIX: Include a small amount of plant-based fat with every meal or snack, such as chopped nuts in your oatmeal at breakfast, avocado or olives in your salad at lunch, and veggies sautéed in extra virgin olive oil at dinner.

MISTAKE #5: Buying into the afterburn myth. It's true that we do burn more calories in the hours after a workout, but in total for most women it amounts to just an additional 50 calories per day, not enough to sanction a splurge. Studies also show that aerobic exercise may increase appetite and many women unconsciously "eat back" about 90% of what they've burned. THE FIX: Stay mindful of both the number of calories you burn during a workout, which may actually be less than you think (tools on Shape.com can help you) as well as how much you’re eating, which may be more than you think! Keeping a food journal can help with the latter - being off by just a little every day can be enough to stop you from seeing results.

Do you have any sports nutrition or weight loss questions? I'm here to help!

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