Written by Chris Moore, MS RDN CC
Eating on the run? This question might apply to any number of folks: teens, working moms, top corporate execs, and even amateur or high profile musicians. Basically, anyone with intense work or performance schedule, balanced--or should I say, imbalanced-- with inadequate rest, energy intake and even more critical fluid intake, will eventually burn out or run out! A few critical and preventative steps include what I call the F.H.R. (Fuel, Hydrate, and Restore) approach.
Fuel You need to eat (and not just anything)! Decades ago, the concept of carbohydrate loading prior to intense athletic events or long endurances, gained great popularity. This required days of pre-competition heavy starch meals (bread, pasta, potatoes, etc.) while training the muscles to store up glucose for the ‘fight or flight’ period when needed. However, it was debatable if performance always improved. A vast contrast to the popular trend of carb counting, right? The best strategy for limited mealtimes and fast pace lifestyle is to focus on quality versus quantity, or what we in the business call nutrient versus calorie dense foods. Focus on frequent protein-based snacks and high fiber carbohydrates when time is limited and traditional meals are a challenge. Any meat protein sources are great, but not always convenient for the person ‘on the go’ or with spontaneous schedules. Alternatives may include nuts, seeds, nut butters, string cheese, Greek yogurt, hummus, cottage cheese, and eggs (of course, some refrigeration is required), complemented with fresh fruit, dried fruits, raw veggies, and wheat crackers for ‘grab and go’ options. There are numerous retail brands of protein bars on the market for consideration but read labels closely for high sugar content. Also, a homemade trail mix or smoothie could capture some of these favorites.
Hydrate So often hunger is confused with thirst, or we simply forget to drink. Thirst is detectable only after fluid stores are depleted. One rule is to don’t wait on thirst as a sensation to drink. First warning sign of dehydration is fatigue. Athletes can lose greater than one quart of fluid per hour during intense activity. When you consider the body is roughly 60% water, there’s a great need to hydrate, and it should be part of the plan at the outset, drinking before and during (hourly) activity. Extreme conditions (heat exposure, high humidity, competition and extended performance times) only enhance your need for hydration. Although the market is saturated with over $1 billion of energy and sports drinks, flavored water and electrolyte replacements such as Gatorade®, the best and cheapest fluid is plain water. Plain water leaves the digestive tract and enters the tissues faster and cools the body from the inside out. Some endurance athletes may require more than water and electrolyte replacement.
Restore Refuel within two hours of competition or performance to restore energy. For adults, a balanced high carbohydrate diet along with protein is needed (.8 gram /kg body Wt./day). Increased protein is suggested for endurance athletes and vegetarians (1.2 – 1.4 grams/kg body Wt./day). This would suggest a 150 pound (68kg) reference male, would need about 55 grams protein/day or 82 – 98 grams/day for the endurance athlete or vegetarian. Continue fluid replenishing (~two cups for each pound loss is recommended) after activity or intense workout; every 20 – 30 minutes versus all at once until a desired amount is achieved is best to promote retention.
For the best performance even on the run, remember F.H.R. with quality energy sources and fluids.
For more specific guidelines on individual energy and fluid needs, consult a registered dietitian nutritionist.
Nutrition Concepts and Controversies, 13th ed. Sizer and Whitney. Nutrients, Physical Activity and Body Reponses. P. 370