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
4. Creatine is like a steroid
5. You shouldn’t eat after dinner
I don’t know where this magic time came from. If I eat at 8:01pm, will I instantly gain 5 pounds? In all seriousness, the most important factor for weight gain and loss is not when you eat but what you eat. One study actually found that consuming a protein or carbohydrate drink right before bed boosted the metabolism of active young men the next morning, aa compared with a placebo.
Eating nutrient dense foods, like lean proteins, whole grains, fruits and veggies, will fill you up without weighing you down. But, if you eat a very rich and calorie dense meal at 8 p.m. and hit the sheets an hour later, you’ll most likely experience indigestion and hold onto some of those unwanted calories.
6. Running is a great way to lose weight.
Unfortunately, I can tell you from experience that this is not the case. When I trained for the NYC marathon in 2016, I gained a few pounds. And yes, I’m a Dietitian and I should know better. Marathon training will definitely cause you to feel hungrier and eat more, but you need to choose the right types of calories. To learn how to do so, read this post!
7. Cramps are caused by a potassium deficiency.
That annoying pain in your side is not the same thing as a muscle cramp. A side stitch actually has a scientific name, exercise-related transient abdominal pain (ETAP), and it’s brought on by a variety of different factors, like bad posture, eating or drinking right before exercise or irritation of the abdomen lining. To learn how to prevent side stitches, click here.
8. The anabolic window is within one hour of exercise
9. Caffeine is bad for you
I’m delighted to say that it’s not. As a matter of fact, there is a ton of research showing that caffeine may help with things like dementia and athletic performance. Plus, coffee is loaded with good-for-you antioxidants. So go ahead and start your day with a cup of joe and enjoy this blog post on the benefits of coffee.
10. You can’t get enough protein to build muscle on a plant-based diet
I definitely struggle to get enough protein some days (especially when traveling), but it’s not IMPOSSIBLE to get enough protein on a vegetarian or vegan diet. There are plenty meatless sources of protein, like dairy, tofu, beans, legumes, whole grains, seeds, nuts… and the list goes on. You better believe I’ve written about this topic here!
You should drink 8 glasses of water each day
I’m a huge proponent of hydrating properly for a workout and everyday life, but it’s a common misconception that you should drink 8 glasses of water per day. 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. If you are producing a sizable amount of urine and it’s pale yellow in color, you are properly hydrated. 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!