What You Should Know About Sports Nutrition, Fitness and BCAAs

Sports Nutrition, Fitness and BCAAs

By: John Heiss, Ph.D., Sr. Director of Sports and Fitness, Worldwide Product Marketing

It’s a given that athletes achieve peak performance by training and eating a healthy diet, ideally suited to their particular training and competition routine. My major observation in working with teams is that both high-caliber athletes and average, non-active adults often share a common body composition goal: improve muscle mass while reducing fat mass.

The number one tip to accomplish this is to match your food intake, in terms of the number and source of calories (i.e., carbs, fats, proteins), to your lifestyle. For an athlete, this usually means eating the right foods to support the adaptations that results from training – whether it be the obvious advice of protein to build muscle, or the less-so-obvious advice of eating enough carbohydrates to support the increased ability of muscles to store and utilize glycogen – the most important energy source for almost all athletes.

For non-athletes, the advice is really similar: consider how your food intake matches your lifestyle. Not so active? You’ll have lower calorie needs than an athlete, so that means less overall food. And since you don’t need to rely as heavily on carbs for energy, a reduction in carbs and choosing protein instead can have favorable effects on your goal of improved body composition.

Advice for Everyone

Whether you’re a pro-athlete or a “weekend warrior,” you’re still an athlete and need the same basic nutrition. Everyday people might want to give extra attention to their nutritional needs and because they’re busy juggling life, having easy-to-prepare nutrition products will help get the most out of their workouts.

Why Consuming Carbohydrates Post-Workout is Critical

Part of any sound athletic training is to focus on post-workout repair and refueling. The key to post-workout nutrition is to have a mixture of protein AND carbohydrates. We all know protein is critical to rebuild muscle – which matters for both men looking to get bigger but also for women who want to be lean. For women, don’t fear bulking up – a little extra protein combined with exercise will improve overall tone, especially since women have much lower testosterone levels than men, and are typically lifting less heavy weights.

But don’t completely ignore carbohydrates, which are important for refueling our energy supplies, providing energy to our brains for quick and accurate decision-making, and supporting overall recovery. This doesn’t mean to gorge on a post-workout pizza either! A reasonable target is about 25 grams of protein and, for most workouts, 20-30 grams of carbs. That’s about equivalent to a piece of fruit worth of carbs – not that whole pizza.

Carbs are the primary and preferred source of energy in the body. While you can burn fat as a fuel source, don’t think you will magically melt away pounds of fat just by doing a few brief cardio sessions a week. The real mechanism of exercise-induced fat-loss is cumulative over days, weeks and month long workout programs. Also, eating enough food post-workout with carbs and protein will hopefully reduce some potential cravings– meaning you’ll get a better recovery and unlikely overeat later.

What Are BCAAs and Why Are They Important?

During hard workouts, you’re basically tearing down lean tissue. That’s why in the days following a workout you might have muscle soreness, reduced range of motion, and even some swelling. This is where protein, which is made up of building blocks called amino acids comes into play. Leucine, isoleucine and valine are a family of amino acids referred to as BCAAs and act as not only as building blocks of muscle, but also as a trigger to switch on muscle synthesis (building). A normal diet with a mixture of good protein types will contain a proper amount of all amino acids.

BCAAs are found in particularly high levels in dairy protein, which is one reason why athletes have long used whey as a post workout protein source. Soy, beef and chicken contain about 80-85% as many BCAAs as whey. Most plants contain even less BCAAs, and this is one reason vegans or vegetarians might want to supplement their diet with BCAAs.

Whether you’re working out in the gym or competing in a race, remember that good nutrition will help you get the most out of your activity.