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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Eat Like a Champion
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Henry C. Lukaski

Grand Forks residents reconstructing their flood-damaged homes and engaging in recreational activities have a great deal in common with athletes in training: They need to eat correctly to perform well. Proper food selection and fluid replacement are the keys to success.

Complex carbohydrates--from grains, fruits and vegetables--are the best choice for fueling your muscles and promoting health. Complex carbohydrates are broken down in the intestines, released into the blood as glucose and stored in muscles and the liver as glycogen, a glucose-containing substance. The type of food eaten influences how quickly glucose, the fuel that cells use to produce energy, enters the blood after eating. This response is called the glycemic index. A plain baked potato, bagels, bread, watermelon and corn flakes provide a quick rise in blood sugar; these are high glycemic foods. Fruit, vegetables, and milk are low glycemic foods; they release glucose into the blood slowly. A diet that provides 4 grams of carbohydrate per pound of body weight will promote fuel storage to be broken down to glucose for work. Selecting a serving of spaghetti, rice, baked potato, cheese pizza, banana, raisins, bagel, cereal and fruit juice will boost carbohydrate intake and will help you to reach the daily goal of 480 and 720 grams for a working woman or man.

Fat is another energy source. But studies of athletes show no advantage of high dietary fat in boosting work performance. Also, high-fat diets may increase risk for heart disease and certain types of cancer. It is recommended that dietary fat be restricted to about 25 percent of daily energy intake which translates into about 60 and 80 grams per day for an active woman or man.

Our bodies need a small amount of protein to maintain muscle during moderate activity. Seventy to 100 grams (less than 3 to 5 ounces) daily is enough for the average woman or man. This amount is easily achieved by eating a variety of foods, including lean meat, fish, poultry, skim milk, cottage cheese, yogurt, ice cream, and many types of beans. Most Americans get more than adequate amounts of protein in their diet.

Although carbohydrates get much attention, water is even more important for physically active people. Because the body is about 50 to 60 percent water, and sweating is the major route by which the body cools itself during work, fluid replacement is crucial. You should drink before you feel thirsty because you can lose more than one percent of your body weight before you get the urge to drink. The American College of Sports Medicine suggests that people involved in moderate levels of work drink 8 to 10 ounces of fluid before starting to work, then drink another 8 ounces every 30 minutes of work.

All fluids do not promote water replacement. Carbonated beverages delay water absorption while alcoholic and caffeine-containing drinks will cause water loss. The best choices are cool water, dilute fruit juices and sport drinks. Not all sport drinks are effective in replacing fluid losses, however. Products with more than 8 percent carbohydrates or sugars (8 grams per 100 mL) should be avoided because they may cause fluid retention in the stomach and result in an upset stomach.

Be prepare when you tackle that home repair project: Fuel your body’s energy reserves and refill your water tank.

Last Modified: 4/4/2007
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