Thursday, July 24, 2014

Ultimate Nutrition Facts for Athletes

Keys to Ultimate Frisbee Nutrition

with Nutrition Expert, Ultimate Frisbee Player & Author Allison Tannis BSc MSc RHN 

Pushing through, ignoring the wall and digging deep are important to success as an athlete. But, getting your body to perform at its best starts with fueling it, and keeping it fueled. Here is some information about sports nutrition that can be used by any athlete (including my Ultimate Frisbee teammates to whom I promised I'd write a bit about this topic on my blog) to get the most out of their body. Research is this area is varied and ever changing - please accept the information below is only an overview and take away what you what.

Note: The most important thing to do as an athlete is to listen to your body. Give your body what it needs when you’re off the field: cool it off, drink water, eat. If you don’t, you’ll be trying to play with a body that biologically cannot perform at its best.

1)  Hydration:

Try not to be dehydrated starting exercise – in other words, focus on drinking water the days prior to competition. While exercising, drink more water than your "thirst" asks for. Being thirsty is a signal that you are already dehydrated and your performance is suffering. Try drinking small amounts of water frequently to avoid digestive distress.

Drink something you like the taste of – that way you are more likely to drink lots of it. How much do you need to drink? The best way to determine if you’re rehydrating correctly is to weigh yourself before, and then after exercise. You do not want to lose more than 2% of your body weight or you haven’t drunk enough to stay sufficiently hydrated to be at your best. You can also check urine colour - light yellow is ideal.

If exercising for >1 hour, your body requires electrolyte replenishment. If exercising for 2+ hours, your body requires carbohydrate replenishment. 

2) Fuel:

The primary fuel used by the body during an Ultimate Frisbee game is carbohydrate (your body could use fat as a fuel source, but once your working over 60-70% of your VO2Max, which is about your aerobic threshold, you only burn carbohydrates). The main source of carbohydrate fuel in the body is glycogen cells found in muscles. Even if you “carb-load” before an event you’ll only have about 90 minutes worth of glycogen to fuel you. In other words, you’ll probably be running on fumes by the end of your first game. Including carbohydrates in your nutrition plan for Ultimate Frisbee games and tournaments is important. Here are some facts about two popular sources of carbohydrates for endurance athletes:

a) Sports Drinks 

Sports drinks that include sugar can be tough to digest (some people complain of stomach discomfort). As your body runs harder and longer, blood is pulled away from the digestive tract to focus on supporting the muscles. As such, some people will simply have a slow stomach digestion, meanwhile others may find their stomach almost stops working altogether which causes discomfort when trying to consume sugar/food. Nuun and other electrolyte replacements may be easier on your stomach. If you tolerate sports drinks well, it appears Gatorade has a preferable carbohydrate make-up for absorption of the sports drinks available on conventional store shelves. 

b) Gels  

Gels offer a quick sugar source for your blood stream that can ‘wake-up’ your brain. During exercise, blood sugar is sent to the muscles to sustain them, lowering the amount of sugar available to the brain – this explains that tired or foggy feeling some experience when they exercise for long periods or without properly eating beforehand.

Everyone absorbs carbohydrate differently so it may take anywhere from 3 minutes to 15 minutes for you to ‘feel’ a gel. Gels will not necessarily re-store your glycogen stores at a one-to-one ratio. Gels can also be hard to absorb if your stomach has slowed. If so, try using just a quarter of a gel pack about 20 minutes apart. Always drink water when taking a gel pack. As for when to take a gel pack, some suggest taking them 45-60 minutes into extended exercise for better absorption and stomach acceptance, and avoid taking them towards the end of your intense exercise.

3)  Recovery:

Within 20 minutes after exercise protein and carbohydrates must be eaten for proper recovery. Between games be sure to eat, but keep the amount small if you find your digestion is slower post intense exercise. After a day of ultimate, include protein in your meal to help muscle repair, and sufficient carbohydrates to restore glycogen stores. According to one research study, eating a small amount of protein before bed may enhance muscle repair during sleep.

Table 1: Amount of Carb & Protein for Recovery for Middle-Long Distance Event

Body Weight
120 lb
75 g
150 lb
100 g
200 lb
135 g

Food Examples of 30 g of Carbohydrates:

½ bagel
1 cup chocolate milk
2 cups sports drinks
1 banana
2/3 sports bar

Food Examples of 25g of Protein:

3 eggs
2 cups plain yogurt
1 cup greek yogurt
3 cups chocolate milk
3 oz. (size of a deck of cards) chicken, fish, beef
1 ¼ cup tofu
30 g whey protein

4) It’s Not Just About Bread & Meat:

There is much more to sports nutrition than water, protein and carbohydrates. Vitamins are needed for energy production (particularly B vitamins). Antioxidants (found in bright coloured fresh foods) are needed to reduce damage and inflammation. Fish oil is needed to minimize inflammation. All in all, the best foods for athletes are the best foods for everyone – fresh, colourful whole foods with some complex carbohydrates and quality protein. Some sports drinks/gels/bars include some of these other important nutrients. Some athletes find multivitamins also helpful. If you choose to use a multivitamin during tournaments, be sure to use one with divided daily dosages (e.g. 3 a day) so you can take small amounts throughout the day. Why? Some vitamins are water soluble and can’t be stored in the body for later use (hence urine colour darkens after taking a multivitamin).

5) Staying Cool in Hot Weather

In hot weather, staying cool will enhance performance. Here are some ways that are easily done on an ultimate field: put ice cubes in your drinks to keep it cool, if well tolerated by your gut drink icy/slushy drinks, place cold wet towels on neck/back on points off).


No matter what you do, do NOT drastically change your nutritional plan on “race-day”. Try it out before hand.

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