Stoking the fire

It’s not unusual to see serious athletes gobbling greasy cheeseburgers and washing them down with rivers of draft beer after a hard workout. But while the urge is understandable, it’s a bit like dumping tar into a racecar’s gas tank. The truth is, a body needs premium fuel, timed accordingly, in order to perform well.

Mountain Xpress brought together a panel of local sports-nutrition authorities to weigh in on the right way, nutritionally speaking, to prepare, sustain and recover from outdoor activities. Brad Deweese is a faculty member at UNCA’s Department of Health and Wellness; David Nieman serves as director of the Human Performance Lab and is a professor of exercise science at Appalachian State University; and Jeffrey Graham serves as a sports-medicine physician at Mission Hospitals’ Center for Rehab/Sports/Fitness.

Mountain Xpress: Does the general population need to worry about refueling?

Brad Deweese: Individuals who are involved in a workout routine of any nature need to consider proper nutrition and refueling options.

MX: How many calories do most people expend during an hour of exercise?

David Nieman: Walking will burn about 200-400 calories per hour, with the best endurance athletes capable of burning close to 1200-1500 calories per hour.

Jeffrey Graham: For running, figure roughly 100 calories per mile. For biking it is probably not quite as high.

(Note: One 12-ounce can of Coke contains 140 calories. One 2.05-ounce Milky Way Bar contains 260 calories. If the average person were to eat both at once, they would need to jog four miles to burn them off. Nieman points out that consuming too much can be counterproductive to exercisers trying to lose weight, which, for many of them, is the primary goal.)

MX: Are there general guidelines for refueling, and ways to know if you’re refueled?

BD: An individual can check their weight after the workout and at the end of the day. If a person takes in the correct amount of carbohydrates and fluids, they should regain the weight lost during the training session, or on average 2 to 3 pounds.

DN: During a race or long, intense training sessions, a sports drink with carbohydrates and electrolytes is needed to sustain pace. (One liter per hour.) Exercise bouts of lower duration and intensity do not require sports drinks — the emphasis should be on water, between a half liter to one and a half liters per hour.

MX: Are “power bars” effective fuel for the body?

DN: “Power bars” are convenient, but a nutritious meal pattern based on the food pyramid should receive primary attention.

MX: What are the warning signs when the body is depleted of important nutrients?

BD: [Some] chronic signs of poor diet can include increased time needed for recovery between workouts, a decrease in “pop” due to the fatigue of the central nervous system, suppression of the immune system, and anemia in endurance athletes due to the disruption of red blood cells caused by continuous foot strike.

JG: Low potassium can cause, at a minimum, cramping, and at very low levels, heart palpitations. Low sodium, which sometimes can be recognized by an excess urge to urinate, can cause serious confusion. It’s usually caused by excess H2O consumption. Without the right amount of carbohydrates, the body experiences “hitting the wall,” which is the resulting feeling of being drained of energy. Low protein can also cause this energy drain, but much later during the session.

MX: Does temperature matter when it comes to refueling?

BD: Temperature can play a major role. The warmer it is outside, the more often one should ingest fluids, especially those that offer electrolytes and sugars. During warm weather, a simple rule would be to ingest 6 to 10 ounces of a sports drink diluted to one-half its strength with water, every 15 minutes during the workout.

MX: Explain pre-workout fueling versus post-workout fueling.

DN: Pre-event diet intake is critical — high carbs, high fluids, with low fiber during the day before the event. Other than an emphasis on fluids and sports drinks during and after the long endurance event, the post-event diet should be centered on the typical meal pattern.

MX: What are some good choices for refueling? What about beer and the new hype about chocolate milk being a good energy drink?

JG: Pizza and bananas are excellent choices, and I’m a big fan of beer, though it’s not a great choice. The thing to remember is that you want to take in more protein after an event to help rebuild the muscle you’ve torn down. So, pour on the protein. Chocolate milk? Probably a fad, but damn it tastes good! I love eating a big piece of fish with some pasta after an event. For meat lovers, there is nothing wrong with takin’ in some cow or dinin’ on the swine, both of which provide the high protein content necessary for recovery.

BD: Any meal that provides an ample amount of carbohydrates, protein and some fats. The best place to eat is at home because you have the ability to control the ingredients and portion sizes.

Note: Always consult with your physician before embarking on a new diet or exercise program.

[Jonathan Poston lives in Asheville and can be contacted at]


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