Even when you're working your hardest to improve your diet and your athletic performance, change doesn't come quickly or easily.
So it can be tempting to fall for pills and potions that promise fast results with little effort.
Don't do it. Marketers have been pushing so-called performance enhancers, also known as ergogenic aids, for decades. And if they really worked, you might think a lot of us would have very different bodies by now.
Here's the deal: Nutrition and hydration do matter. Some vitamins and supplements do appear to be helpful. But that doesn't mean megadoses are more helpful.
The truth is that eating a balanced diet plus exercising regularly will help you manage weight and increase performance. But there are no shortcuts. In fact, overdoing performance or weight-loss "aids'' can actually sabotage your progress.
I started running more than 45 years ago, long before the market was flooded with the gels, bars and brews advertised as "must-haves'' for competitors. A balanced diet gave me the energy for long-distance running, and it still works to this day. Here are a few myths and facts I have learned about fueling on the move:
Myth: Lots of caffeine makes you perform better.
Fact: Caffeine is a central nervous system stimulant, and to a point, can help your speed and power. But a couple of cups of coffee an hour before your activity will give you plenty. Taking caffeine supplements, especially in combination with other stimulants, will harm your performance and could raise your heart rate dangerously.
Myth: Drinking water before and during exercise causes nausea.
Fact: Again, it's all about balance. Too much water washes out necessary sodium and potassium, which creates a condition called hyponatremia, leading to nausea and vomiting. What's more common is taking in too little water during exercise, causing dehydration, cramping and severely limited performance. How much is just right? Every 10 to 20 minutes of exercise, you should drink 4 to 8 ounces of water, depending on your size. So a 16-ounce bottle will last some people just 20 minutes.
If you're sweating for an hour or more, a sports drink such as Gatorade mixed with water can refuel electrolytes and prevent muscle cramps. But you don't need salt tablets; they'll just make you dehydrated.
Myth: Carbohydrates cause weight gain, and high protein helps with weight loss.
Fact: No matter what you eat, eating more than you can burn leads to weight gain. During exercise, carbohydrates supply your muscles with glycogen, which the body uses as its main source of fuel, giving the energy needed to go for long periods of time. High-protein diets can subtract water from your tissues, and if grains, cereals, fruits and vegetables are sharply limited, you'll lack the fuel you need for exercise.
Myth: Taking vitamin and mineral supplements will increase performance.
Fact: The role of vitamins is to release the energy from the food one eats, but there isn't enough evidence yet to say megadoses provide an athletic advantage. For now, your well-balanced diet, with perhaps a regular multivitamin for insurance, is all you need unless your doctor determines otherwise. For instance, if a woman is given a ferron test and is found to be iron deficient, reversing that situation can improve her athletic performance.
Myth: Eat carbs before a workout; protein after.
Fact: You do want to emphasize those nutrients at those times, but in balance.
• Before an event or long workout, have a snack or meal that is about 70 percent carbohydrate, 15 percent protein and 15 percent fat. For example: half a bagel with a small amount of peanut butter.
• During long events or workouts, to your regular water intake add carbs in the form of sports gels or small pieces of an energy bar. After an hour or so, mix Gatorade with water, especially if it is over 70 degrees and humid.
• Within about 15 minutes after the event, refuel with a drink or snack that's about 4 parts protein to 1 part carbs. Try chocolate milk, yogurt or a protein shake with fruit. And keep hydrating. A long event is like a deep-tissue massage, in that both stir up waste products you'll want to flush out.
Lynn Gray is the founder of Take ... The First Step in Tampa. Check out her website at www.FirstStepPrograms.com, e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call her at (813) 453-7885.