Every sport and fitness activity seems to have its “own” top food choices. Energy gels to boots endurance for runners, sports drinks to prevent electrolyte imbalance in a two-hour-plus tennis match or soy foods to keep up with the vegan diet that many yogis praise. Nutritionally, all choices make sense. However, could your diet be overloaded with some foods while losing out on other important nutrients?

1. Endurance sports

Overload: The pasta pre-race says all. Runners know that they need carbohydrates to increase glycogen stores (glucose stored in the muscle and the liver) to keep their energy needs.

Missing: Protein and fats have been associated with increased body mass, in addition to the longer digestion rate that these nutrients take. Many endurance athletes often avoid both things. By doing this, however, they may be running low in iron and other important fats such as mono-saturated fats and Omega-3 fatty acids.

Risks: Iron is essential to keep up with the aerobic system, among other functions. Low iron decreases the body’s ability to deliver vital oxygen to all cells of the body which increases fatigue, says Christine Gerbstadt, MD, RD author of the Doctor’s Detox Diet.

In addition, omega-3 fatty acids and mono-saturated fats may aid muscles and joints to recovery faster by reducing inflammations.

Eat: Red meat is the highest source of iron, but other animal protein like pork, chicken and fish have iron, explains Gebstadt. “Plant sources are less well absorbed–but try dried beans, leafy greens.  Eating these with tomatoes or citrus, vitamin C food sources, helps increase iron absorption,” she said.

Great sources of omega 3 fatty acids are found in salmon, mackerel, and sardines (twice a week) while vegetarians can have flaxseeds and consider supplement, recommends the nutritionist. Don’t forget to add extra virgin-olive oil as one of the best mono-saturated fats.

2. CrossFit trainees

Overload: The Caveman or Paleo diets heavily emphasize animal protein food intake to provide the muscles with the essential amino-acids and minerals like iron, zinc and selenium to repair the muscle fibers tear that normally occurs after heavy-high intensity weight training workout. In addition, the diet favors the natural fat content that comes along with animal protein to boost testosterone production and thus, favor a lean body mass.

Missing: Due to the high physical exertion that CrossFit imposes, the addition of carbohydrates from food sources other than vegetables and fruits (allowed to some extent, particularly the latter) are required.

Risks: The body needs carbohydrate-heavy meals to fuel and refuel properly. “The brain runs on glucose only, a fuel received from carbohydrates. Using protein for fuel is inefficient because then what do you have left to build and repair muscle tissue?” says Shari Portnoy, MPH, RD, CPT.

The expert explains, “Protein does not provide more than 10 to 15 percent of the total energy requirement for an activity. It is not advantageous to use protein because it is crucial for building and repairing muscle tissue.”

Eat: A mixture of all carbohydrates, from whole grains like whole wheat, corn, buckwheat, quinoa, brown rice, whole barley; also fruits, vegetables and dairy, like nonfat yogurt, Greek yogurt, low fat cheese, milk, advises Gerbstadt.

3. Racket sports players

Overload: Just the ingestion of 6 percent carbohydrate solution at 30 degrees Celcius resulted in significant increase volitional exhaustion when compared to a non-carbohydrate solution, states in a study published in the Medicine & Science in Sports & exercise journal.

Similarly, plenty of studies show that 2 percent weight decrease due to dehydration impairs performance. No wonder, we see tennis players sipping all kinds of sports drinks.

Missing: Some sports drinks have too much sugar. Racket sports players may be relying on too many sports drinks and missing out real food that is rich not just in potassium but other important nutrients that will aid on keep a steady energy flow.

Risks: No doubt, potassium and sodium are critical for the body. Potassium is essential for muscle and heart function. Sodium helps with many body functions and water balance, said Gerbstadt.

However, there are other nutrients that are equally important to perform at your best such as carbohydrates, lean protein, and fruits and vegetables for fiber and antioxidant benefits for energy sustainability and replenishing the muscles.

Eat: Hydrate with fluids containing ½ water, ½ sports drinks with electrolytes.

Two hours before playing: Have pasta, cereal with low-fat milk and a banana, noodle soup or gazpacho with crackers or turkey sandwich with an apple.

During play: Snack on fruits like bananas, orange slices, or dried fruits. During a changeover, a dried fruit bar works too.

No time to eat: Grab a large smoothie with whey or soy protein one hour before a game or practice.

4. Yogis

Overload: Studies show that yogis are mindful dieters which makes them to be more conscious about what, how and when they eat. Many follow a diet reduced in meat and high in plant proteins; particularly soy, which has been linked to ward off many diseases including heart issues, type II diabetes and even some types of cancer.

Missing: Animal foods are the only source of Vitamin B-12, except for a vegan supplement of this vitamin--not found in vegetable foods, said Gerbstadt.

Additionally, the ones who have jumped onto the soy camp may be trapped with too much processed soy like soy protein isolate which doesn’t have the benefits of whole soy.

Risks: Vitamin B-12 deficiency causes both pernicious anemia (unhealthy blood cells) and neurologic abnormalities such as brain loss affecting balance and spine deformities. It affects the whole nervous system as well as the body use of protein, fats and carbohydrates that we consume in our diet.

In regards to high soy intake, Gerbstadt warns that processed soy like soy protein isolate does not have the health benefits of whole soy because it lacks of the isoflavones for heart and cancer prevention.

Eat: Three servings of protein a day and some from either animal foods for vitamin B-12 or a B-12 supplement if you are vegan. Three servings of  whole  soy a day will give you enough protein but not vitamin B-12  –  1 serving equals 1 cup soy milk, 1/2 cup tofu or edamame, or cooked dried soy beans.

Marta Montenegro is an exercise physiologist, certified strength and conditioning coach and master trainer, who teaches as an adjunct professor at Florida International University. Marta has developed her own system of exercises used by professional athletes. Her personal website, martamontenegro.com, combines fitness, nutrition and health tips, exercise routines, recipes and the latest news to help you change your life but not your lifestyle. She was the founder of nationally awarded SOBeFiT magazine and the fitness DVD series Montenegro Method.

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