Runners have many questions about how to fuel for top performance. The Internet abounds with answers—but how do you what’s valid? Here are some trust-worthy answers, based on research presented at the American College of Sports Medicine’s Annual Meeting (www.ACSM.org).
My son is a football player. I am fearful of his getting a concussion. Can he do anything with his diet to help protect my brain from damage?
An effective way to reduce the harmful response to traumatic brain injuries is to routinely consume oily fish (omega-3 fats) during training. Unfortunately, a study with 112 football players (none of whom took fish oil supplements) indicates only 1% of them consumed adequate dietary omega-3s. They would be wise to enjoy more tuna sandwiches, grilled salmon, and other oily fish, as well as take fish oil supplements.
What can I do to reduce my risk of getting injured?
You want to eat well on a daily basis and stay in peak physical condition. Fit individuals have a lower injury risk. A study with Navy SEALs suggests having good knee strength and flexible hamstrings, as well as strong leg muscles, are important factors to reduce the risk of lower-leg muscle and bone injuries.
You also want to maintain an appropriate body weight—not too thin! Among female collegiate athletes, those with components of the Female Athlete Triad (amenorrhea, stress fractures, and/or restrictive eating) experienced more injuries than those who ate enough calories to support normal menses and strong bones.
I eat less than my teammates but I am not losing weight. How can that be???
The less you eat, the more the body down-regulates to conserve energy. A study with collegiate female athletes reported those eating ~1,600 calories a day, as compared to their peers who ate 2,100 calories, conserved energy via a lower resting metabolic rate and reduced thyroid (T3) level. Try getting out of “hibernation” by eating a bit more and enjoy better energy? Consulting with sports dieting can help guide this process. To find your local sports nutrition professional, use the referral network at www.SCANdpg.org.
I’ve heard that beets, arugula and nitric oxide supplements can enhance athletic performance by improving blood flow to muscles. Could they also help my grandpa who gets tired when walking?
Likely yes. A promising pilot study in older adults (average age, 78 years) showed that chronic nitric oxide supplementation (40 mg, 3 times/day) was well tolerated and associated with increased ability to walk more efficiently. We need more research to better understand the impact of dietary nitrates and nitric oxide supplements on physical activity and health among elderly people. Till then, we can all enjoy more beets, arugula, celery, and other foods rich in dietary nitrates.They help youthful runners as well as their grandparents!