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Eat like a champ: The importance of nutrition in exercise


Now that the Pan Am games have officially begun, there is a lot of excitement surrounding the many sporting events that make up the games. And with all the excitement, coupled with the hot summer weather, we may all be inspired to step-up our exercise regimen or take up a new sport. While elite athletes such as those participating in games will have unique nutritional requirements, those of us who like to enjoy an active lifestyle can also benefit from healthy eating and proper hydration. Healthy eating can help you stay energized and ensure you have enough fuel to make the most out of your workout and sporting activities.

Here are some tips to help you eat and play like a champion:

Stay well hydrated
Water is generally the best choice, but all fluids count towards your total hydration, including coffee and tea How much water should you drink? The amount of fluid each person needs is individual however you don’t need to gulp gallons of water before your workout. Stay well hydrated throughout the day and keep a bottle of water with you during your activities to take sips from. Generally, men over 19 should aim for 12 cups of fluid daily and women should aim for 9 cups. Remember, that when it is hot outside, you need to drink more water as you are likely losing more fluid through sweat. If your urine is dark yellow and strong-smelling, or if you have a dry mouth and lips, these can be signs that you may need to drink more water.

Sports drinks  
Sports drinks are beverages made from water, sugar, electrolytes such as sodium and potassium, and some other ingredients. We lose a lot of water and sodium through sweat, and sports drinks can help replace these. The sugar in the drinks can also help replace some of the energy burned during activity.

For most people, sports drinks are not necessary because we aren’t exercising long enough or at a high enough intensity to need them. Water is usually the best choice. However, if you are training for a marathon, playing vigorous sports, or exercising in the heat, sports drinks can help replace of some the fluid and electrolytes you will lose.

Pre-workout snacks
Eating before a workout or playing sports can help make sure you have enough energy to perform at your best. A couple of hours before activity, you want to choose something with carbohydrates that are easy to digest as well as a small amount of protein and fat. Some ideas are an English muffin with peanut butter and a glass of soy milk, a bowl of whole-grain cereal with milk and an apple, or a half a turkey sandwich with low-fat yogurt.

Post-workout snacks and meals
After activity, your body needs to refuel, rehydrate, and repair your muscles. Within 30 minutes of finishing, try to eat something with protein and carbohydrates to help replenish. Some ideas are a banana and a glass of milk, a small can of tuna and crackers, chocolate milk or Greek yogurt with berries and granola.

About an hour after that, you should have a meal that also has plenty of protein and carbohydrates. Some examples are a chicken and vegetable stir-fry over rice, grilled fish with sweet potatoes and vegetables, or pasta with meat sauce.

Supplementing your diet
Do you need to use protein supplements? Most people think they need to eat more protein when they are active so they turn to protein powder, but often, this is not necessary. Most people can and often exceed their protein requirements through food. Eggs, poultry, meat, soy, fish, and legumes (chickpeas, kidney beans, lentils) are great sources of protein. Dairy products such as Greek yogurt, milk, and cheese also have high amounts of protein.

Choosing whole foods over protein powders can help provide you with protein, along with plenty of other essential vitamins and minerals that can help recovery. Whey and casein are often the proteins used in protein powders; these are just isolated proteins from milk, a glass of milk is a much better choice and it’s cheaper!

Enjoying a variety of foods from all four food groups from Canada’s Food Guide to Healthy Eating can help ensure that you have enough energy and nutrition to perform at your best. Staying hydrated is also extremely important and usually water will do the trick.

If you are not active and thinking about starting, there is no better time to begin! Try to work your way up to at least 150 minutes per week but start slowly. Take up a new sport, try a dance class, or go for a walk outside with a friend, the health benefits are worth it! Physical activity helps keep you muscles and bones strong, helps with weight management, and is a great way to relieve stress.

If you would like to learn more about nutrition and sports, visit or

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