Nutrition Tips on the Best Way to Fuel an Athlete

Well-known sports nutritionist Nancy Clark recently reviewed a few surveys and studies taken in the last month and announced some important points on what’s best for fueling an athlete. The topics ranged from protein supplements to common diet deficiencies in athletes to hydration best practices.

Today, I had the chance to speak with WAKR host Ray Horner about these points. I also offered some last-minute nutrition tips for those of you participating in this Saturday’s Akron Marathon.

Below is an audio file and transcript of our discussion.


Horner: Joining us live right now is Dr. Joe Congeni from Sports Medicine Center at Akron Children’s Hospital. Good morning, Joe. What do you have for us this morning?

Dr. Congeni: Hey, Ray. I wanted to look at a couple of just quick-hitter points of some studies and surveys in the last month or so in the area of sports nutrition. It’s a big area, and a lot of athletes, parents and coaches really like to keep up on what’s the best for fueling an athlete in sports nutrition.

One of the most trusted sources in the last couple of decades is a great nutritionist by the name of Nancy Clark. She’s written several books and she has a website. She had a couple of quick-hitter points on some surveys in the last month or so.

One of them … is the issue of protein supplements. And, you know how many serious high school athletes take protein supplements, so she looked at a study down in Florida, a survey of athletes between the ages of 14 and 20.

Over 80 percent of athletes consumed adequate protein to repair and build muscles, which was actually over two grams of protein per kilogram per day — so more than an adequate amount of protein. However, about 50 percent of them still took protein supplementation, which is totally unnecessary.

The body really can only deal with a certain amount of protein, and if they’re getting plenty of protein in the diet, the excess amount of protein that they take in through supplementation is really a waste of money. And, this study finally proved that so we can tell kids, hey, now there’s some proof that that’s the case. So, that was point No. 1.

Dr. Joe Congeni

Dr. Joe Congeni

No. 2: Nancy Clark looked in California. There was another study in serious athletes out in California that showed that over 86 percent of athletes — similar to what we said — take enough protein in their diet. But, if there’s a deficiency in the diet, it’s usually in carbohydrates.

So, the take-home point is that a lot of young athletes will use their diet to build muscle and repair muscle, but they don’t take in enough carbs to fuel the muscle that they have.

The third [point] was a lot of athletes get dehydrated and they wait until the end of the day to catch up. There was a very good study showing that you’re much more efficient as an athlete if you keep up all day with hydration, rather than trying to catch up at the end of your day before you go to bed with a lot of fluid uptake at that point.

Horner: Joe, okay, I’m getting ready to run in the marathon Saturday morning, as our relay team gets ready. What’s the best nutrition for me to cut down on my 25-minute mile?

Dr. Congeni: [laughter] You know this already. At this time, you’ve done all the building and repairing of the muscle this close to the race. [Now], the real key is gonna be to fuel those muscles that you’ve been working on. So, the carb-loading in the next 24 hours is going to be really important.

And, oh my gosh, my hat off to you, Ray. That’s fantastic. Are you running a leg or the whole thing?

Horner: No. I’m just running the first leg.

Dr. Congeni: The first leg is going to be beautiful; that morning leg is going to be awesome. But, [do] that carb-loading right now in the next 24 to 48 hours and then you’ll be plenty set ‘cause we know you have enough muscle mass.

Horner: [laughter] Oh yeah. Well, that’s good for me with the Italian background. I’ll just load up on pasta the next couple of days.

Dr. Congeni: That’s right. That’s what we’re telling you. Isn’t it good to hear people say that that’s something you can and should do?

Horner: I got it. Alright, Joe, thanks. Hey, I’ll see you Friday night.

Dr. Congeni: Okay. Have a great week.

Horner: Alright. Dr. Joe Congeni from Sports Medicine Center at Children’s Hospital.

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About Dr. Joe Congeni - Director of Sports Medicine

Dr. Joe Congeni is the Director, Sports Medicine; Clinical Co-Director, Center for Orthopedics and Sports Medicine at Akron Children's Hospital. For the past 25 years, Dr. Congeni has been the “go to” source for national and local media looking for information about pediatric sports medicine.

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