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Understanding nutrition needs of fitness enthusiasts

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Nutritionists from the University of Maryland Medical System regularly contribute a guest post to The Baltimore Sun's Picture of Health blog. The latest post, reprinted here, is from dietetic intern Brian Bowers.

In an ever-changing world of health information, it can be tough to decipher material as valid or phony. As a fitness enthusiast, you may search for nutrition advice that can provide you with ideas on how to get more energy, aid in muscle recovery and growth, or optimize overall athletic performance. But are you getting the full picture? Below, we take a look at some of the most popular nutrition-related myths regarding exercise.


Carbohydrates are bad

The common belief that eating carbohydrates is "bad" for you isn't necessarily true. Quality sources of carbohydrate like whole-grain breads, fruits, starchy vegetables and legumes provide our bodies with numerous vitamins and minerals. In addition to being our greatest energy source, some carbohydrates (like those listed above) contain fiber, which keep you full longer. Carbohydrates get a bad rap sometimes because they can be found in foods like cookies, chips, sodas and sweets. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends that active adults and current athletes consume 6 to 10 grams of carbohydrates per kilogram of body weight per day. As an important part of restoring muscle glycogen after exercise, carbohydrates also maintain blood glucose levels, which may explain feeling shaky or dizzy after not eating for a prolonged period. Choosing nutritious sources of carbohydrates can help improve not only your athletic performance, but your overall health.


Sports drinks are required

Adequate hydration is just as important for sports performance as proper nutrition and sleep. Water is generally recommended to replace lost fluids when exercising, unless exercising for more than 60 minutes. In that case, a sports drink may be beneficial to replace fluids and electrolytes lost in sweat. Taking in calories and carbohydrate from sports drinks for minimal physical exertion could result in storage of these excess nutrients. Try drinking water regularly during the day to hydrate. If at your next game or workout you begin to cramp or feel tired, think about stepping up your fluid intake a bit. If you have lost a pound or two of fluid weight from exercising in warm weather or for durations greater than 60-90 minutes, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends replenishing with at least 16-24 ounces of fluid for every pound lost.

Extra protein, more muscle

How much protein do you really need? People who exercise and burn energy frequently need more protein than their less physically active counterparts. The recommended dietary allowance for people over the age of 18 is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. For athletes, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends 1.2-1.7 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day, which easily can be attained through food. Protein should be consumed with some source of carbohydrate to help the muscles repair and grow. Milk and chocolate milk are two excellent sources of protein, carbohydrate and calcium that can replenish fatigued muscles after a workout. Excess protein not used by our bodies can be converted to glucose for energy or stored as fat. Balancing your protein intake throughout the day may provide more efficient digestion and absorption. Other quality sources of protein include eggs, lean meats and fish, beans, nuts and low-fat and non-fat dairy products like cheese and yogurt.

Sports supplements

The sports supplement business is not tightly regulated. Although manufacturers are required by the Food and Drug Administration to analyze the identity, purity and strength of supplements, they are not required to demonstrate safety or if products are effective. Ask yourself the following questions: Where was it made? Is it legal? Are there side effects? How much does it cost? Is there science-based evidence to support product claims? Research the company before purchasing any of its products to ensure your safety and health. For more information on sports supplements or sports nutrition, check out and