Nutrition tips for beginner athletes and the truth about fat!

Woman stretching

For all levels of athletes, not getting the right kind of nutrition at the right time may lead to early fatigue or complete exhaustion during an exercise, both physically and mentally. And this feeling is NOT fun.

The legendary University of Oregon track and field coach, and Nike co-founder, Bill Bowerman once said, “If you have a body, you are an athlete”.
Athletes at all levels: beginners, intermediate, advanced and pros should recognize the importance of fueling their body with adequate nutrition when engaging in different types of physical activity which provide full recovery and replenish energy storage.

Here are four nutrition tips for athletes to get you going and to make sure you don’t crash and burn in the middle of a workout!


1. Replenish your body with RESPECT

Honor your body following a workout with a balanced, wholesome meal and plenty of fluids (water is preferred). Try having this meal within an hour post-workout. DON’T try to avoid eating after a workout just “to lose weight” because it doesn’t work that way. After an exercise an athlete’s body needs to rehydrate, replenish carbs for tomorrow’s workout, recover and repair muscles and reduce potential inflammation. BALANCE is key here, and any one of these options is a good choice:
a. 2 slices of whole grain bread + cottage cheese + eggs + salad
b. ½ cup cooked whole rice/spaghetti/quinoa/barley/buckwheat + chicken breast/salmon/tuna + vegetables
c. Baked sweet potato + cheese + tahini + vegetables
d. Rich indulging smoothie; yogurt, fruits and peanut butter


2. Don’t exercise on an EMPTY stomach

Nothing can run on an empty fuel tank, especially athletes. Our body needs its readily available “fuel” (=carbohydrates) to perform efficiently. 30-60 minutes before you hit your workout eat something simple and easily digested. We’re talking CARBS such as:
a. Low fat yogurt
b. A small banana/other fruits
c. 1 slice of bread with a bit honey/jelly on top
d. 1-2 dates


Yogurt with fruit and nuts on white background
3. Avoid Running “On Fumes”

The truth is that as athletes, we should sometimes push ourselves to the limit in order to improve! You should definitely experience fatigue at the end of the longest or hardest run, bike ride or swim (or any other workout) you ever had. But you shouldn’t feel exhausted or depleted of all energy. When a workout is longer than 60-90 minutes, it’s recommended to replenish the readily available CARBOHYDRATES that your body consumes during exercise. By doing so, you’ll be motivated to keep going or wake up the next day fully energized for another workout. 45-60 grams of beloved CARBS per hour of exercise will do the work:
a. 1 small banana
b. 1-2 Medjool dates
c. 1 gel pack (Gu/Clif/PowerBar/others)
d. 1-2 cups of diluted sports drink (mix it with water)


4. Water is Life

During a workout, especially when it gets warmer outside, our body SWEATS – aka GLOWS – to cool itself (thermoregulation). It is a super smart mechanism of the human body, but it also increases the risk of dehydration. Athletes must keep hydrating BEFORE, DURING and AFTER a workout. How much you ask? This depends on every individual, but your urine is a great indicator for hydration – aim for a clear-pale colored urine all the time. If it’s dark – you definitely aren’t drinking enough. If you have to stop and run to the restroom in the middle of your workout – you might be drinking too much. The following are some guidelines for daily hydration:
a. 2-3 quarts of fluids per day
b. 2-3 cups of water 2-3 hours before a workout
c. ½ – 1 cup of water every 30 minutes of exercise
d. 1 cup of water right after an exercise
As long as you follow these basic measures before, during and after exercising, you should be fine to exercise at your peak level!


Does Fat make us Fat?

Dietary fat is an essential nutrient, though one which suffers from a bad reputation. True, it is a caloric dense nutrient, providing 9 kcal for 1 gram. However, it provides energy, essential fatty acids (linoleic & linolenic acids) that we need for brain development, helps control inflammation & blood clotting, delivers key nutrients to our body such as fat-soluble ADEK vitamins (which also make skin, hair & nails look great), and for most – it’s delicious.
When we think of fat, we immediately think of our hips and gut, or about unhealthy processed foods such as potato chips, fries, crackers and fat-dripping pastries. But getting *the right* amount from good sources is good for you and probably for your waistline too.


Types of FATS:

Saturated Fats:
fat molecules “saturated” with hydrogen molecules. They are typically solid at room temperature. They increase your LDL (“bad”) cholesterol which builds-up in arteries & increases the risk for cardiovascular disease and other major health problems. Aim to keep saturated fat consumption to under 10% of your total daily calories. Sources: mainly animal products such as butter, whole milk, ice cream, cream and fatty meat, but also some oils such as coconut, palm.


Unsaturated Fats:
also known as essential fatty acids (EFA), they come in two types: mono & polyunsaturated fats, which differ by the number of double bonds (a carbon bond with no hydrogen attached to it). They are typically liquid at room temperature and lower your LDL cholesterol. If you’re getting an adequate amount of essential fatty acids they can act as anti-inflammatories, promote healthy metabolism, skin & hair. Sources: oils such as canola, olive, soy and sunflower. Also found in avocados, tahini, some nuts & seeds, flax seeds, fish.


Trans Fats:
Unhealthy fats we want to avoid! Trans fats are formed during industrial processes, when vegetable oil hardens through hydrogenation, a process intended to keep food fresh longer. These fats raise LDL cholesterol and lower HDL (“good”) cholesterol. Sources: butter, margarine, candy, processed foods of all kinds, etc. Try to limit consumption to as little as possible.


At the end of the day, fat is an important macronutrient that we all need to maintain our health. However, we should consume fats in moderation. A diet rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, poultry, fish and nuts, and low in processed foods, fried foods, high-fat red meat, sugary food and beverages will help us maintain a healthy body and mind.

Noam Bechar Nature Remedies consultant Noam Bechar Clinical & Sports Nutritionist