10 sports nutrition myths that are hurting your performance. An RDs set the record straight on these popular nutrition misconceptions.
Doesn’t it seem like nutrition info is constantly coming at you from so many different angles? TV, websites, Instagram, YouTube, Tik Tok, podcasts, coaches and friends perpetuate sports nutrition myths, so it’s hard to tell the facts from the fiction.
When seeking out nutrition advice, it’s important to turn to a trusted expert that looks at the science to deliver advice that has been proven. [Related: What’s The Difference Between A Registered Dietitian & Nutritionist?]
These 10 sports nutrition myths are things I hear all the time from clients and followers. It’s time to set the record straight and share the truth about these common misconceptions.
1. Coconut water is just as hydrating as a sports drink.
Because of its high potassium content, coconut water is often used by athletes as a more “natural” alternative to sports drinks. While coconut water does contain fluid and an abundance of potassium, it’s missing out on other elements that are necessary for hydration during intense exercise, mainly sodium and carbs.
Sports drinks are formulated to keep athletes hydrated during activity that lasts longer than an hour. They contain fluid for hydration, sugar to replenish glycogen stores (carbs used during exercise) and electrolytes (sodium and potassium) to replace the ones lost in sweat.
Research suggests that a 6-8% carbohydrate ratio is ideal for topping off glycogen and keeping energy levels high. That percentage of carbohydrates is necessary because it helps the body pull the fluid and carbohydrates into the cell without issue.
In addition, most sports drinks have two sugar sources (glucose and fructose). The body uses different receptors for each sugar. When a drink has two sugars, the gut can take in more sugar at once without stomach distress.
Since coconut water does not have a 6-8% carbohydrate makeup, two sugar sources or sodium, it’s not a great substitute for a sports drink. That said, you can use coconut water to make your own sports drink– here’s a recipe.
My cookbook, Planted Performance, also has two sports drink recipes– Lemon & Lime and Salted Watermelon.
2. Endurance athletes don’t need as much protein as strength-trained athletes
The Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for protein is 0.8 grams per kilogram (0.36 grams per pound) of body weight per day. Since protein is a vital part of muscle building, strength trained athletes realize they need plenty of it to maximize gains.
But endurance athletes often overlook protein, since building muscle is not their main focus. That said, research spanning the past 30 years indicates that athletes engaging in intense training may benefit from ingesting anywhere from 1.2 to 2.0 grams of protein per kilogram (0.45 to 0.9 grams per pound) of body weight per day to maintain muscle mass.
Although each athlete is different, higher intakes are generally recommended for shorter periods of intense training. A recent meta-analysis found that most athletes benefit from a protein intake of around 1.6 grams per kilogram (0.72 grams per pound) per day.
Of the utmost importance is making sure you take in enough calories, particularly carbohydrates, to meet energy expenditure. If an athlete burns more calories than they consume, their body will start to break down lean muscle for use as fuel. Over time, this may lead to muscle wasting, injuries, illness, and training issues.
3. Leaner athletes are faster
It’s no secret that more muscle means more power and greater endurance for your sport. But often, athletes strive for a lean physique to increase their performance, and they fail to fuel themselves properly for their sport.
The downside of the mentality that “leaner = faster” is that it can lead to disordered eating patterns or underfueling. With that, athletes don’t take in enough calories for energy and they see decreases in performance and increase in injuries. Underfueling can also negatively affect hormone levels, which play a role in overall fertility.
To create a healthy fueling diet that also helps build muscle, make sure you eat carbohydrates before and after every workout and prioritize protein in the post-workout recovery window and at every meal. [Related: 11 Best Healthy Carbs For Athletes]
4. Creatine is like a steroid
It’s a common misconception that creatine is a harmful supplement that acts like a steroid. Experts aren’t sure where this belief came from, but creatine is perfectly safe. As a matter of fact, creatine is a compound that is made by the body in the liver and kidneys.
You can also get creatine through the foods you eat, mainly chicken, fish and red meat. Creatine is used by the muscles and then refueled throughout the day. Specifically, the body uses creatine for quick muscular power, making it crucial for high intensity sports like cycling, running, swimming, etc.
It’s possible to “top off” creatine stores with supplementation. Research shows that creatine supplementation may improve muscular strength and body composition, enhance recovery, and boost speed.
To supplement with creatine, look for creatine monohydrate (most sources are vegan) and begin with 20g per day for 5 days, followed by 3 – 5g per day consistently.
Combine creatine with carbohydrates and protein to increase uptake by the muscle and drink adequate water with each dose. Many athletes split the dose over multiple meals to prevent nausea and diarrhea.
5. You shouldn’t eat after dinner
This myth is perpetuated by those who claim that eating before bed makes you gain weight. Let’s break this down a bit. Since everyone is different and has varying eating habits, there is no clear answer to the question, “Can I eat again after dinner?”
Some people eat dinner at 5pm and need a pre-bedtime snack to feel satiated. Others work late and eat dinner at 8pm. It’s hard to look at steadfast rules like this and say whether they are “right” or “wrong”. Rather, you have to analyze the diet as a whole.
For instance, many athletes need extra calories and find that including a pre-bedtime snack helps them fuel for a morning workout. One study actually found that consuming a protein or carbohydrate drink right before bed boosted the metabolism of active young men the next morning, as compared with a placebo.
Other research on athletes suggests that pre-sleep protein ingestion actually increases muscle protein synthesis.
Rather than focusing on the time of eating, think about what you’re eating, why you’re eating and if it’s filling and nutritious. If you’re snacking at 9pm because you’re bored or stressed, maybe try a different activity to soothe those emotions. If you’re snacking because you’re hungry, then choose a snack with some protein and healthy fats to keep you full.
6. Running is a great way to lose weight.
Although this varies based on a person’s size and athletic ability, runners burn an estimate 100 calories per 10 minutes of running. That sounds great for those hoping to lose weight from the sport, but there are some things to consider when running for weight loss.
Losing weight requires a person to be in a calorie deficit for an extended period of time. This means you have to eat less calories than you expend. For a runner, this often translates to underfueling, which can hinder performance.
Many runners are concerned with PR’s and getting faster and stronger. If you’re running for weight loss, ask yourself if you can sacrifice these other goals.
7. The anabolic window is within one hour of exercise
It is often cited that you must eat protein within 30-60 minutes after a workout to maximize muscle protein synthesis. This time period is often called the “anabolic window” or the time period when you should eat protein to maximize gains post-workout.
However, research has shown that the anabolic window stays open for much longer than 60 minutes. A 2013 research review states that the anabolic window is actually more like anywhere from 3 to 6 hours post-workout.
More importantly, the researchers identify the amount of protein necessary for building muscle:
What’s more, other research says that muscle protein synthesis actually increases in the 24-hours post-workout. The International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN) recommends consuming 20-40 grams of protein every 3 to 4 hours throughout the day to stimulate muscle growth.
In other words, you don’t have to rush to get protein into your system after a workout. Eat high-quality protein throughout the day to ensure muscle growth. [Related: Do You Need Protein Powders?]
8. Caffeine is bad for you
Caffeine gets a bad reputation, but research suggests you can have up to 400 milligrams per day without negative side effects. To put that into perspective, an 8-ounce cup of coffee has 95 milligrams of caffeine.
For athletes who enjoy a cup of joe, you’ll be happy to know that it’s been shown to have some performance benefits. Caffeine has been shown to reduce perceived effort, make you faster, boost concentration and improve muscle recovery. [Related: The Truth About Coffee and Health]
Taking in 150-200 milligrams of caffeine before a workout can enhance overall performance. Caffeine takes about 10 minutes to enter the bloodstream and peaks around 45-75 minute after ingestion, so time your consumption according to your exercise routine.
If caffeine makes you feel jittery or causes heart palpitations, talk to your doctor before adding it to your routine.
9. You can’t get enough protein to recover on a plant-based diet
Recovery is an important part of any athlete’s nutrition routine. [Related: 12 Best Recovery Foods For Vegetarian Athletes] While protein is an important part of recovery, carbohydrates play a key role as well.
The ISSN states that an athlete’s recovery nutrition should include protein for muscle synthesis, as well as carbohydrates for glycogen restoration. Many athletes think the plant-based foods don’t have enough protein to meet their daily needs.
That is simply untrue. This article outlines many plant-based protein sources, like beans, quinoa, tempeh, tofu, peas, hemp seeds and more. To get enough protein in your diet, mix and match foods, like beans and legumes or oats with nuts and seeds.
10. You should drink 8 glasses of water each day
I’m not sure where the “8 glasses of water per day” rule started. It’s not bad to aim for 8 glasses per day, but because everyone varies in their age, size, gender, activity level and health status, there isn’t one fluid recommendation to suit everyone’s needs.
Instead, the best way to know if you’re properly hydrated is to check your urine output and color. You are properly hydrated if you are producing a sizable amount of urine and it’s pale yellow in color. If you only put out a small amount of dark colored urine (like apple cider vinegar), you are dehydrated.
Continue to drink enough until you consistently get to that pale yellow color, and that’s the right amount of fluid for you! You can also conduct a sweat test to asses your hydration needs.
Listen to learn more!
The Greenletes Podcast welcomes Angie Asche, a board-certified specialist in sports dietetics and a certified clinical exercise physiologist. Angie realized her passion for sports nutrition and consulting athletes one-on-one early on in her career, which led her to launch her private practice, Eleat Sports Nutrition.
Since founding her company, she has worked with hundreds of high school, college, and professional athletes nationwide. She is also the author of the book Fuel Your Body, which will be released May 11th.
In this episode
Natalie and Angie chat through common diets, like keto, intermittent fasting and macro counting. We also discuss sports nutrition myths, like:
- Lower body fat always equals an improvement in performance.
- Your body can only absorb 20-30 grams of protein per meal.
- Endurance athletes have lower protein needs than strength athletes.
- Coconut water is more hydrating than a sports drink.
- If you’re craving a certain food, your body needs those nutrients.
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