Here are some of the most common or interesting questions we've been asked, and our answers below. For related information refer to our factsheets and publications.
- Are there any particular foods useful for healing injuries?
- I am unable to drink milk. How can I get enough calcium in my diet?
- How can I boost my iron intake?
- Should my family avoid desserts or is there a sensible way to include them in our diets?
- What supplements do athletes at the AIS use? How can I tell if a supplement has any banned substances?
- I am a distance runner and love pasta. Is pasta bad to eat?
- I specialise in ironman triathlons. How many kilojoules do I need for this event?
- I am competing in a 24 adventure race with a group. What should I eat before, during and after the event?
- My basketball games finish as late as 10 pm. I am usually too tired to cook and eat after playing. Is it a problem to miss dinner?
- My younger son often plays in basketball tournaments. What can I feed him to prevent him eating the chips, pies etc. provided at the stadium kiosk?
- Apart from fluid, what should a player have at half time in a rugby match? Is a banana appropriate?
- I have been told to avoid carbohydrate after 2 pm because it will turn to fat. Is this true?
- What are some alternatives to meat for a vegetarian diet?
Body Size and Shape
- How can I avoid gaining weight in the off season?
- How do you lose weight when you are in heavy training without getting tired from having an energy deficit?
- Does eating before exercise affect my ability to lose weight?
- What is the right way to lose weight?
- Is there a certain amount of fat you can consume in one day without putting on weight?
- I am 15 and am desperately trying to increase my muscle mass. What do I need to eat?
- My daughter is very thin despite eating well balanced meals. What sort of foods are most suitable to keep up with her high energy needs?
- Why is fluid replacement so important and what is the best fluid to drink during exercise?
Competition and Training
- What are some good options to take on long training rides?
- What preparation would you suggest before, during and after a road cycling event (50-150 km)?
- Is it appropriate to give jelly beans to my netball team during quarter time breaks?
- My soccer team has a tournament coming up where we will play 2 games a day for 4 days. What should we eat before, during and after matches?
- Are oranges inappropriate at half time in an U10 soccer match?
AnswersAre there any particular foods useful for healing injuries?
A. Unfortunately, there are no magical foods. There are substances present in foods such as antioxidants, fatty acids and vitamins which assist in various functions such as cellular repair, inflammatory response and tissue growth. However, these substances are present in a number of foods and interact in complex ways. The best thing to help speed up recovery is to consume a mixed diet with a wide variety of fruit, vegetables, wholegrain cereals, fish, nuts, legumes, dairy products, meat and plant oils. Avoid restricting your intake excessively in order to minimise weight gain while you are injured. The body will take longer to recover when total energy intake is inadequate. Focus on foods which provide a wide variety of nutrients and avoid an excessive intake of poor quality foods such as lollies, cakes, biscuits, deep fried foods, alcohol and soft drink.
Q. I am unable to drink milk. How can I get enough calcium in my diet?
A. Dairy foods are the best source of calcium and eating 3-4 serves (200ml milk, 200g tub of yoghurt, 30g slice of cheese) each day will meet most people's requirements. If you don't like milk, consume more cheese and yoghurt. Alternatively, you could try a soy beverage or soy yoghurt - just make sure it has added calcium. Other good sources of calcium include tinned fish such as salmon, herring and sardines where the bones are eaten, or oysters, dried fruit, almonds, muesli and legumes such as kidney beans, tahini and tofu.
Q. How can I boost my iron intake?
A. There are two types of iron found in food. Haem iron is found in animal-derived foods and is well absorbed by the body. Non-haem iron is found in plant foods and is absorbed poorly. The absorption of non-haem iron can be improved by combining non-haem foods with sources of haem iron. Good sources of haem iron are lean red meat, chicken, fish and liver or liver pate. The largest amounts of non-haem iron are found in eggs, fortified breakfast cereals, wholemeal bread, spinach, legumes, dried fruit and nuts. You can improve your iron intake and absorption by:
- Including lean red meat in your meals 3-5 times each week. It’s as easy as adding a slice of roast beef to a sandwich or a handful of lamb strips to a stir-fry.
- Use commercial breakfast cereals that have been fortified with iron. The label will tell you if iron has been added.
- Make use of other fortified products such as powdered drink mixes which have added iron.
- Add a source of vitamin C to your meals. This helps improve the absorption of iron. Good sources of vitamin C include fruit, juice and vegetables such as capsicum and tomatoes.
- Avoid tea and coffee immediately before and after meals. These substances inhibit the absorption of iron.
Q. Should my family avoid desserts or is there a sensible way to include them in our diets?
A. Traditionally, desserts are high in fat and sugar and low in nutrients. However, there are plenty of nutritious options available. Desserts based on fruit or low-fat dairy products can be a good source of vitamins, minerals, fibre and carbohydrate. Baked apple, fruit crumble, rice pudding and low-fat custard are good examples. Many desserts can be modified to make them more nutritious. Take your favourite recipe and replace any full-fat dairy products with low-fat versions, reduce the amount of butter, margarine or oil and cut back on the amount of sugar. In most cases you won't notice the difference. Also make use of the many quick, nutritious options available. Low-fat smoothies, low-fat chocolate milkshakes, ready-made custard, yoghurt, fruit salad and low-fat muffins are a nutritious but sweet end to a meal. People with lower energy needs may need to reduce the size of the main meal or cut back on snacks during the day to allow room for dessert.
Q. What supplements do athletes at the AIS use? How can I tell if a supplement has any banned substances?
A. The Supplement section of our website provides details on supplements used at the AIS. The Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority (ASADA) provides information on banned substances in products. See the ASADA website for details.
Q. I am a distance runner and love pasta. Is pasta bad to eat?
A. There are a few fad diets around which are popular with athletes at the moment, some of these advocate lowering the carbohydrate intake. Given that pasta is a carbohydrate-rich food, this too has taken a dive in popularity in some groups of people.
The main argument used to fuel the anti-pasta popularity is that with carbohydrate ingestion there is a rise in a hormone called insulin in our bloodstream. Insulin activates glucose storage in the muscle and liver, fat storage, and protein synthesis in the muscle. From this simplistic explanation it would seem reasonable that if we lower our dietary carbohydrate intake we can lower the insulin in our bloodstream and therefore store less fat. However, the reality of this type of approach is that it invariably lowers the variety and quantity of food in the diet, which causes weight loss, not because of an alteration in any hormonal balance. Also, insulin is a very sensitive hormone and there will still be plenty of it in the bloodstream, even with a low carbohydrate intake.
For endurance events, such as distance running, our muscles rely on carbohydrate as an energy source, and it is important to replace these stores between each training session. Pasta is a great option when combined with a low-fat sauce and consumed in reasonable quantities. The Recipes section of our website includes some great pasta recipes.
Q. I specialise in ironman triathlons. How many kilojoules do I need for this event?
A. You probably need to focus on carbohydrate requirements per hour of exercise, more so than kilojoule requirements. Carbohydrate, unlike fat and protein is a fuel source for your muscles during ironman racing that is stored in limited quantities within the body. So your focus during an ironman event should be on replacing hourly carbohydrate and fluid requirements. You should consume roughly 1 gram of carbohydrate per kilogram body weight per hour of exercise during an ironman.
To compensate for the lack of opportunity to eat or drink during the swim, make sure you have a breakfast meal that provides roughly 2g of carbohydrate per kilogram body weight a couple of hours prior to race start. For an 80kg athlete, this would be 3 x English muffins, 1.5 tablespoons of jam, and 750ml of a sports drink. Make sure they are foods you are familiar with, are low in fibre, rich in carbohydrate, low-fat and easily digested.
During the hour before race start, try drinking 500ml of sports drink and additional water (particularly if you are in a hot environment) to top up fuel and fluid levels. The advantage of competing in triathlons is that you can always urinate during the swim if you drink too much beforehand.
Think of the bike leg as a 'rolling buffet' because you really need to consume adequate fuel and fluid during this leg to set yourself up for the run. Nutrition plays such a key role in triathlons, particularly ironman events, and the bike is where you have the most opportunity to consume adequate food and fluid.
It is always a good idea to start off with a bike loaded with a full complement of drink bottles. It is easy to lose track of how much you have drunk if you are continually picking up and tossing drink bottles at aid stations. If you are drinking sports drinks and lose count of how much you have drunk, you can't be sure of your carbohydrate intake. Try to drink to a plan, so you know how much fluid and carbohydrate you have consumed.
Take a variety of food on the bike with you. These foods might include sports bars and gels, fruit bars, cereal bars or real food options such as Vegemite™ sandwiches (white bread, no margarine, with crusts cut-off). It’s a good idea to take a little more than you need, so you can mix things up on the day.
You may think the Vegemite™ sandwiches are a strange choice. However, most sports foods are low in sodium and are sweet tasting. Vegemite sandwiches are great for breaking up the monotony of sweet foods and adding additional sodium to your intake. The sodium helps your body retain fluid, and decreases the likelihood of suffering hyponatremia (low blood sodium levels), a real danger for ironman triathletes. Many sports foods and fluids such as carbohydrate gels, sports bars and sports drinks are relatively low in sodium compared with regular food items.
Depending on the environmental conditions aim to consume 750-1000ml of fluid each hour on the bike, you may need more in hotter conditions. Don't rely solely on sports drinks as your only carbohydrate source, as you may find you drink less in cold conditions. Much to the disgust of race officials, it is a good idea to urinate while on the bike - this indicates that you are still relatively hydrated.
The run presents many more challenges than the bike in trying to match your food and fluid requirements. You need to experiment in training to see what works best for you. Most triathletes however, deal better with fluids and gels during the run leg as it is far more difficult to consume food while running. Early in the run, it is not a bad tactic to slow down during aid stations to take fluid on board. Keeping cool on the run is also a consideration, so slipping some shaved ice under your hat is a pretty good idea.
Above all, be sure to experiment with your nutrition race tactics during your longer brick training sessions. Don't expect to race well on a nutrition plan that you are not familiar with.
Q. I am competing in a 24 adventure race. What should I eat before, during and after the event?
A. Your requirements will depend on how much activity you are doing in the 24 hour period? Are you doing the whole event or sections of it? If you will be exercising continually for greater than 90 minutes, it may be worthwhile to carbohydrate load before the event. See Carbohydrate Loading for further information.
During long exercise sessions, it is important to replace carbohydrate and fluid. Theoretically, you require approximately 30-60 g of carbohydrate per hour of exercise. See Carbohydrate - how much? for information on the carbohydrate content of common food and fluids. The types of foods and fluids which are most suitable depend on the intensity of exercise and your individual tolerance. If doing continuous, high intensity exercise you need options which are easily digested and absorbed. For example, sports drink, carbohydrate gels and lollies. If the exercise intensity is lower, you should be able to tolerate foods such as fruit, cereal bars, sports bars, plain sandwiches, crackers, yoghurt, etc. It is useful to include a combination of sweet and savoury foods to avoid 'flavour fatigue'. Including some salty options such as Vegemite sandwiches, pretzels, crackers, potato chips etc. can also be useful, especially in very hot conditions or when fluid losses are high.
Fluid requirements vary widely among individuals. Training sessions can be used to estimate your individual fluid requirements. Work at drinking regularly (every 10-20 minutes) while exercising. Sports drinks are a good option but water, cordial and juice can also be suitable. The amount of fluid you require will depend on your individual sweat rate. Most people will need 300-1000 ml of fluid per hour of exercise. See Fluid - Who Needs It? for further information on fluid.
When needing to recover quickly after exercise, it is important to consume carbohydrate (0.7-1g/kg), protein, vitamins, minerals and fluid as soon as possible. In most cases, consuming 2-3 of the following options will meet recovery requirements:
- flavoured milk
- sports drink
- sports drink
- cereal bars
- sports bars
It may be useful to use a combination of hot, cold, sweet and savoury foods. Taste fatigue can develop if you use too many sweet foods. Keep in mind that changes in environmental conditions and temperature will also affect your food and fluid preferences.
Q. My basketball games finish as late as 10 pm. I am usually too tired to cook and eat after playing. Is it a problem to miss dinner?
A. Ideally, you should try to eat something before your games. You will be able to play better and enjoy the game more if you have plenty of carbohydrate and fluid on board. Quick meal ideas include spaghetti or baked beans on toast, toasted sandwiches, grilled English muffins, and breakfast cereal. Alternatively, try cooking a little extra on other nights during the week that way you can freeze individual portions so you have a good quality meal which can be quickly reheated on basketball nights. If this is too difficult, investigate some of the frozen meals available in the supermarket. Many of the lower fat varieties are good quality choices. If you really can't eat before basketball, compensate by consuming a little more in the earlier part of the day - extra breakfast, lunch and snacks.
Recovery occurs more rapidly when carbohydrate, protein, vitamins and minerals are consumed immediately after exercise. If you are training or playing again within the next 24 hours, it will be useful to have something to eat after your game. A large meal is not necessary but snacks such as smoothies, sandwiches and cereal are good quick options. If you have more than 24 hours to recover, it is not as crucial to eat after playing.
Q. My younger son often plays in basketball tournaments. What can I feed him to prevent him eating the chips, pies etc. provided at the stadium kiosk?
A. The best option is to pack a cooler with home-prepared food. Take along some sandwiches with interesting fillings, pasta salad, mini home-made pies or quiches, muffins, fruit salad, cereal bars and yoghurt. Encourage your son to consume the bulk of his food from the cooler but also let him buy a drink and some type of treat from the kiosk. If you keep your food interesting, you will probably have other team members wanting to trade their pies and chips for your own food.
Q. Apart from fluid, what should a player have at half time in a rugby match? Is a banana appropriate?
A. If you eat appropriately during the week and before the match, you should have enough fuel on board to last the entire game. If your energy levels tend to fade towards the end of a match, some carbohydrate at half time may be appropriate. Sports drink is probably the best option as the carbohydrate is digested and absorbed quickly. Another alternative is a carbohydrate gel. A banana is OK as long as you do not experience any stomach discomfort. Consider that they will take longer to digest than sports drinks and gels.
Q. I have been told to avoid carbohydrate after 2pm because it will turn to fat. Is this true?
A. There is no reason to avoid carbohydrate after 2pm. The body gains weight when more kilojoules are consumed than used through daily activity and exercise. Carbohydrate, protein, fat and alcohol all provide the body with kilojoules. Therefore, you will gain weight if you consume any of these nutrients in excess. Popular weight loss diets usually employ a number of 'rules' which sound scientific but are actually just a way of causing you to reduce your food intake, and therefore your kilojoule consumption. Avoiding carbohydrate after 2pm restricts your food choices and therefore may cause you to consume a smaller number of kilojoules. However, it is possible (and preferable) to achieve a similar reduction in kilojoule intake with a more balanced, nutritious and enjoyable meal. Avoiding particular food groups may cause you to miss out on nutrients which are necessary for good health. For further information, see the Weight Loss fact sheet.
Q. What are some alternatives to meat for a vegetarian diet?
A. If you follow a vegetarian diet it is important to include food choices that fully replace the nutrients found in animal derived foods. Some nutritious meat alternatives include:
- Textured Vegetable Protein (TVP) - this looks a lot like mince however is made from plant and soy protein. It is a rich source of protein and iron and can be used to make dishes such as pasta sauce, lasagne, chilli con carne and casseroles.
- Ready-made meat alternatives - there are many specialised vegetarian products in the supermarket. These products are generally found in the 'health food' section of the supermarket. Vegetarian luncheon meats, sausages, hot dogs etc. can be found in the fridge section.
- Legumes (e.g. lentils, chick peas, kidney beans) are a rich source of protein and iron. Search through recipe books for suggestions for using these products. Many legumes now come pre-cooked and canned, making them much easier to use.
- Tempeh and tofu are good protein and calcium food alternatives and can be found in most supermarkets.
- The Recipe section of our website includes vegetarian recipes. Also have a look at our fact sheet on Vegetarian Eating.
Body size and shape
Q. How can I avoid gaining weight in the off season?
A. When training loads decrease, the body needs less energy (kilojoules/calories) to maintain weight. However, athletes who develop a large appetite when in heavy training can find it difficult to cut back their food intake once training levels drop. During the off-season, it is important to continue to have a varied diet which is based on nutritious sources of carbohydrate (bread, cereal, pasta, rice, fruit, vegetables etc.), includes moderate amounts of lean sources of protein (lean meat, fish, skinless chicken, legumes, low fat dairy products), and smaller amounts of fat and non-nutritious sources of carbohydrate (lollies, cakes, biscuits, cordial, soft drink etc). However, you will need to reduce the quantity of food consumed. Different approaches work for different people. You may opt to have slightly smaller meals than usual or reduce the number of snacks you eat. Going without foods which you normally have during training sessions (e.g. sports drinks, sports bars) will also help.
A break from training means more free time. Sometimes athletes eat because they are bored. Other athletes become so focused on trying not to overeat that they end up thinking about food all day and eating excessively. A sports dietitian can help plan strategies specific to your needs and eating style. However, the following tips may help:
- Avoid viewing foods as 'good' and 'bad'. All foods can be included in your diet provided you are sensible about the quantity and frequency. Give yourself permission to enjoy higher fat foods in reasonable quantities rather than 'binge eating'.
- Keep a food diary to develop an understanding of when, what and why you eat.
- Plan meals and snacks in advance. Avoid letting yourself get so hungry that you eat the first thing you see when you open the fridge or cupboard.
- Continue to do some sort of activity during the off-season. It is not necessary to continue to train but avoid spending your days in bed or on the couch.
- Find an activity to occupy the time you usually spend in training sessions. This will help to avoid boredom.
Q. How do you lose weight when you are in heavy training without getting tired from having an energy deficit?
A. Some level of tiredness is expected when in energy deficit however the effect can be minimised by adopting a balanced, long-term approach to weight loss. It helps to choose an appropriate time to focus on weight loss. For example, in the off-season or well before a major competition. It is also important to adopt a realistic, long-term approach which involves moderate, gradual changes rather than a large, sudden reduction in kilojoule intake. Tiredness can be reduced by consuming a balanced food intake. You need to consume enough nutrient-dense carbohydrate (fruit, vegetables, cereals, sweetened dairy products) to fuel your training sessions. It is also important to consume sufficient protein to minimise loss of muscle. Make reductions to your kilojoule intake by targeting excess kilojoules from sources such as fat, alcohol and non-nutritious carbohydrate (lollies, soft drink, biscuits, ice cream etc). Clever timing of your food intake will also help to minimise tiredness. For example, a snack immediately after a training session is more effective than a snack late at night. It helps to to plan your weight loss strategy with a sports dietitian. The Sports Dietitians Australia website provides details of qualified sports dietitians in Australia.
Q. Does eating before exercise affect my ability to lose weight?
A. The key to losing body fat is to consume fewer kilojoules than you utilise over a period of time. It is more important what you do over a number of days than what you eat (or don't eat) at a particular meal. If you exercise without eating you may use a greater proportion of fat during the exercise session. However, if you eat before exercise, you will be able to exercise at a higher intensity for a longer period of time. This will allow you to use more kilojoules in total. It really depends on what type of exercise you are doing and how long you intend to exercise for. If you are doing moderate intensity exercise such as running, swimming or cycling for around 60 minutes or longer, it makes sense to eat before exercise.
Q. What is the right way to lose weight?
A. Weight management is about energy balance. You need to make sure your energy intake (i.e. kilojoules/ calories you consume through food and drinks) is less than your total energy expenditure (i.e. physical activity) on a consistent basis. This means you either need to reduce your kilojoule intake, increase your activity level or a combination of the two. There are many ways to go about reducing your kilojoule intake; hence the number of books, magazine articles, diets etc. The following tips will help:
- Target excess high fat foods such as butter, margarine, oil, cream, high fat cheese, meat fat, full cream dairy foods, ice cream, cakes, pastries etc. Fat is the most concentrated source of kilojoules in the diet, making it is easy to consume a large number of kilojoules in one hit when eating high fat foods. Don't avoid fat completely as it is an essential nutrient - just limit your intake.
- Target alcohol. Alcoholic drinks provide a lot of kilojoules and very few other nutrients. Enjoy alcohol in small quantities.
- Target kilojoule-dense foods with low nutritional value (e.g. soft drink, cordial, lollies, and some 'diet' foods). Many people believe sugary foods are OK to eat because they are low in fat and high in carbohydrate. Just because a food is low in fat doesn't mean you can eat endless quantities of it.
- Cut back on snacks and focus on nutrient-dense foods which provide a mix of carbohydrate, protein, vitamins, minerals and fibre. Examples include fruit, yoghurt, sandwiches, low fat milk drinks and cereal bars.
- Continue to enjoy a variety of food types but reduce the amount of food consumed at each meal.
Different strategies work for different people. The key is to continue to consume a wide variety of foods. Do not avoid any food group completely, and remember to include your favourite foods. A dietitian will be able to help you work out a strategy which best suits your individual habits and preferences. Contact Sports Dietitians Australia or the Dietitians Association of Australia for details of a qualified dietitian near you.
Q. Is there a certain amount of fat you can consume in one day without putting on weight?
A. Everyone has individual nutritional requirements. Weight gain occurs when more energy (kilojoules/calories) is consumed than used each day. Kilojoules (calories) are provided by the fat, carbohydrate, protein and alcohol in food and drinks. There is no set amount of fat to aim for each day and it is necessary to consider all sources of kilojoules in the diet. Kilojoule requirements are affected by factors such as age, gender, body size, body composition, metabolic rate and activity. If you are gaining unwanted weight you need to reduce your kilojoule intake and/or increase your activity level. The best way to reduce your kilojoule intake depends on your current food intake. Some people target sources of fat, others reduce the quantity of meals, and others cut back on snacks. A dietitian or sports dietitian can help you determine your own individual needs and help you plan a balanced approach to weight loss.
Q. I am 15 and am desperately trying to increase my muscle mass. What do I need to eat?
A. At 15, it can be difficult to increase muscle mass. Your nutritional needs are currently very high due to your growth and development status. The good news is that over the next few years you can expect to gradually "fill out" and increasing muscle bulk should become easier. In the mean time you need to optimise your training and nutrition and be patient.
Strength training is the most important requirement for the development of muscle mass. Muscles only grow when given the right stimulation. If you haven't already done so, seek expert advice from a qualified strength coach. Discuss realistic goals, an appropriate training regime and appropriate measures of success.
The next requirement is a high-energy diet. In order to increase muscle mass you need more of everything but particularly more carbohydrate. Many athletes make the mistake of focusing on protein when trying to increase muscle mass. It's true that protein requirements increase when undertaking strength training however it is more important to optimise carbohydrate intake. Carbohydrate is the most important energy source as muscles need to be fuelled to do the training that will stimulate growth. Also carbohydrate is required during recovery to prevent protein being utilised as an energy source instead of being channeled into muscle development.
It sounds easy to adopt a high-energy intake but for many athletes it is actually very difficult. Factors which make consuming a high-energy diet difficult include:
- lack of time and/or poor organisation
- the bulk of the food - a high energy diet is filling and requires a lot of chewing
- fatigue and loss of appetite after training
- lack of access to suitable food during the day.
- The following tips will help you achieve a high-energy intake:
- Increase the number of times you eat rather than the size of meals. Plan to eat at least 5-6 meals and snacks each day.
- Choose meals and snacks that are based on carbohydrate-rich foods such as cereals, bread, fruit, sweetened dairy products and also include moderate amounts of high protein foods such as meat, fish, chicken, eggs, seeds, nuts and legumes.
- Organise yourself to have high carbohydrate snacks with you throughout the day. Portable snacks include cereal bars, sandwiches, fruit, yoghurt, juice, dried fruit, flavoured milk, etc.
- Eat before and immediately after workouts. Suitable options include milkshakes, smoothies, yoghurt, sandwiches, cereal, cereal bars, fruit, juice and sports bars.
- Drink high-energy fluids such as low fat milkshakes, smoothies or liquid meal supplements such as PowerBar Protein Plus drink.
See Changing Body Size and Shape and for additional information. You will also find it useful to consult directly with a sports dietitian and have your diet thoroughly assessed. Contact Sports Dietitians Australia to find a sports dietitian near you.
Q. My daughter is very thin despite eating well balanced meals. What sorts of foods are most suitable to keep up with her high energy needs?
A. When energy needs are high and the appetite is small it is necessary to focus on energy-dense foods. This allows your daughter to consume a relatively large amount of kilojoules in a small volume of food. Milkshakes, yoghurt, nuts, dried fruit, cheese, juice and spreads such as peanut butter, jam and honey are examples of nutrient-dense and energy-dense foods. Encourage your daughter to snack regularly and to consume fluids such as juice, milk and cordial which provide energy. Avoid filling up on high fibre foods such as wholegrain cereal products, raw vegetables and fruit. These foods should be included in the diet but if your daughter eats too many high fibre foods, she will find it difficult to consume all the kilojoules she needs. Replace some wholegrain products with white or refined versions, replace some high fibre breakfast cereal with lower fibre options and replace some fresh fruit with tinned.
Q. Why is fluid replacement so important and what is the best fluid to drink during exercise?
A. Unless fluid losses are replaced during exercise, an athlete will become dehydrated. Dehydration impairs performance by causing the following:
- increased heart rate
- impaired heat regulation
- increased perceived exertion (i.e. exercise feels harder than usual and the athlete fatigues earlier)
- reduced mental function
- reduced skill level
- stomach upset
All levels of dehydration impair performance and the magnitude increases as the degree of dehydration increases.
In order to minimise dehydration, athletes need to drink enough during exercise to match their sweat losses. Sweat loss can be determined by weighing athletes before and after exercise. Each kilogram of weight loss indicates 1 litre of fluid loss. Adding the amount of fluid consumed during the exercise session, gives total fluid loss for the session. For example, if an athlete finishes an exercise session 1 kg lighter and has consumed 1 litre of fluid during the session, total sweat loss equals 2 litres. Once an athlete's average sweat loss is known, a plan can be prepared to enable the athlete to match sweat losses in subsequent exercise sessions.
Ideally fluids consumed during exercise, should meet the following criteria:
- have a palatable flavour to encourage greater fluid intake
- contain 6-8% carbohydrate
- contain electrolytes such as sodium and potassium
- be non-carbonated
Sports drinks are the preferred fluid to consume during moderate-high intensity and/or prolonged exercise. Sports drinks are flavoured therefore encourage a greater fluid intake. The carbohydrate and electrolytes in sports drinks promote better fluid absorption. The carbohydrate also provides a fuel source. Other fluids such as water, cordial and juice may be suitable when exercise intensity is low.
Competition and Training
Q. What are some good options to take on long training rides?
A. On long training rides you need foods which provide carbohydrate, are easy to eat, can be carried in a cycling jersey without squashing and do not cause stomach upset. Personal preference and individual tolerance varies, but popular choices include cereal bars, sports bars (e.g. PowerBars), fruit bars, dried fruit, bananas, carbohydrate gels and plain sandwiches (e.g. jam or Vegemite™). It is useful to carry a combination of sweet and savoury options as taste preferences can vary through the ride. Research suggests that 30-60 g of carbohydrate is needed for each hour of exercise. See Carbohydrate - how much? for a guide to the amount of carbohydrate in common foods. You will also need to take into account any carbohydrate in fluids such as sports drink. Remember to put any food wrappers back in your cycling jersey and keep the highways clean.
Q. What preparation would you suggest before, during and after a road cycling event (50-150 km)?
A. The pre event meal should be eaten 2-4 hours prior to competing and should be high in carbohydrate, low in fat and fibre. It should fill you up but not cause any discomfort during the event from over filling or gastrointestinal upset. You should include a good amount of fluid with this meal. Most importantly, you should be familiar and comfortable with the meal. This will mean different foods depending on the race time, and your likes and dislikes. If your race is very early, you may opt to have a lighter snack on the morning of competition, 1-2 hours prior to the event, and a larger supper the night before. Pre-event meal ideas include:
- breakfast cereal + skim milk + fresh/canned fruit
- muffins or crumpets + jam/honey
- pancakes + syrup
- toast + baked beans and flavoured low fat milk
- baked potatoes with low-fat filling
- creamed rice made with skim milk, or low-fat tinned rice cream
- spaghetti with tomato or low fat sauce
- rolls or sandwiches with banana filling and fruit juice
- fruit salad plus low fat yoghurt
- liquid meal supplement
During events that last longer than 90 minutes, some form of carbohydrate and fluid will improve performance and also help you to recover better afterwards. In the shorter races, if you have cycled a fair distance prior to the race, you may also benefit from some form of carbohydrate and fluid during the race. Studies have shown that 30-60g of carbohydrate per hour should be consumed in an endurance event to delay fatigue. This can be achieved by consuming a variety of food and fluids but, for example is equivalent to 500-1000ml of sports drink or 10-20 jelly beans. See Carbohydrate - how much? for a guide to the amount of carbohydrate in other common foods and sports products. You can experiment to see what works for you.
After competing, especially if you have to ride following the competition, a recovery snack is very important. Try to eat approximately 1g of carbohydrate per kg body weight in the two hours after exercise. Including some protein, vitamins and minerals will complete your recovery. This will be around 50-100g for most people. Post exercise snack ideas include:
- fruit bar, muesli bar, cereal bar
- low fat flavoured yoghurt
- smoothie, based on reduced fat/low fat milk.
If you would like more specific advice on the event nutrition, a sports dietitian can be contacted through Sports Dietitians Australia.
Q. Is it appropriate to give jelly beans to my netball team during quarter time breaks?
A. If your players prepare for the match with an adequate pre-game meal, they are unlikely to need extra carbohydrate during the game. It is more important to make sure your players drink sufficient fluid. It won't do any harm to give jelly beans at quarter breaks provided this does not distract your players from drinking. However, it is unlikely to improve the way your players perform. It would be preferable not to promote lollies in sporting situations because most young people consume plenty of lollies outside of sport.
Q. My soccer team has a tournament coming up where we will play 2 games each day for 4 days. What should we eat before, during and after matches?
A. Hopefully, your players already eat appropriately during the week to allow them to recover from each training session. The night before the tournament, players should consume a carbohydrate-based meal which also provides other nutrients such as protein, vitamins and minerals. The recipes on our website are examples of suitable meals.
On the morning of the tournament, players need a breakfast which is high in carbohydrate, low in fat and provides a variety of other nutrients. Players should select from foods such as cereal, toast, muffins, crumpets, tinned spaghetti, fruit, yoghurt, pancakes, juice, fruit smoothies etc. As a general guide, breakfast should be consumed 1- 2 hours before warm-up; however, players will need to experiment to work out the timing which is most suitable for them. If the first game commences later in the day, snacks such as fruit, cereal bars, sandwiches, yoghurt, juice etc. may also be required. Generally, at least 1 hour should be allowed between playing and consuming a light snack. Players need to include fluid with all meals and snacks. Sports drink, water, juice and cordial are all suitable fluids prior to a game.
During games, players should consume fluid (sports drink or water) if the opportunity arises and definitely at half time.
After games, players should begin to replace fluid losses as soon as possible. Sports drinks, water, juice, cordial and soft drink are all good choices. If there is less than 1 hour between games, players should stick to fluids and possibly foods such as jelly lollies, fruit or carbohydrate gels. If there is 1-2 hours between games, foods such as cereal bars, fruit, yoghurt, milk drinks and plain sandwiches are suitable. If there is more than 2 hours between games, more substantial foods such as sandwiches, rolls, noodles, pasta, breakfast cereal etc. should be tolerated. Eating Before Exercise provides additional information. As most food outlets at sporting venues do not provide suitable food, players should organise themselves to take appropriate options from home. Keep food and fluids cool and insulated to ensure they remain palatable and appealing.
Encourage players to consume fluid regularly throughout the day and finish each day with a carbohydrate-based meal as above.
Q. Are oranges inappropriate at half time in an U10s soccer match?
A. Children are less efficient at regulating body temperature than adults. They are therefore more at risk of heat stress when exercising in hot conditions. This means it is important for children to have an adequate fluid intake during sport. Children need to have a drink before the game and during warm up. Drinks should be encouraged during any breaks in play including half time. In very hot conditions, it can be valuable for a medically trained person to step in and modify the rules for the day to allow extra opportunities to drink. This may involve shorter playing periods or dividing the game into quarters instead of halves. This often happens in official competitions at high levels for children and adolescents - safety and enjoyment of sport should always take priority over generic rules.
It has been demonstrated that children will drink more when a flavoured drink is provided. Therefore, while water is suitable, sports drink, juice and cordial are also good choices. Half time is a social part of the game at the U10 level. Sharing some fruit such as orange quarters or pieces of banana is a way of bringing the group together. Providing fruit also provides some carbohydrate, is refreshing and promotes fruit as a positive food choice. It is fine to provide oranges at half time but also provide plenty of fluid.
At the end of a soccer match, foods and fluids which provide carbohydrate but are also rich in other nutrients should be encouraged. Sandwiches, fruit, yoghurt and milk are good choices. Products such as sports drinks, soft drink and cordial provide carbohydrate but do not provide other nutrients such as protein, fibre, vitamins and minerals. Sports drinks are specifically designed to encourage fluid intake during sport. They are not intended to be used as an 'everyday' drink.
Written by AIS Sports Nutrition, last updated June 2009. © Australian Sports Commission.