WASHINGTON – We are what we eat, and that is especially true when it comes to sports.
Think of marathon participants and their big pre-race bowls of pasta.
The theory is you need a full tank of fuel before any endurance event, which means packing in the carbohydrates.
I got a lot of advice about pre-race dining during a visit to Eastern Market with Marie Spano, an expert in all things dealing with sports nutrition.
Spano says to think about the gas tank in your car.
“Your car could run on a quarter tank, but your body cannot run on a quarter tank of fuel. It doesn’t run efficiently,” she says.
As we walked through the market checking out the veggies, fish and, yes, the cupcakes, she explained that it is important to make sure carbohydrate stores in your muscle and liver tissue are saturated before you start.
Extra bagels, linguine and risotto get thrown into the mix in the days before the marathon? I can handle that!
But don’t think this is also a great way to get your kids through a big soccer match or basketball game. When it comes to nutrition and sports, our children are very different.
They can’t rely on stored fuel like adults and need to feed frequently. Spano says they should sip on a sports drink every half hour and snack on things like orange slices at half time.
She says a dose of carbohydrates can help your kids recover after a game, though she prefers fruit or Fig Newtons to candy and chocolate chip cookies. What you want is something healthy and high in carbs to help restore their energy.
Carbs also are key to recovery for us adults, but our nutritional needs after a day of biking, hiking or running are a bit more complex.
In addition to carbohydrates, we need protein to help build and repair muscle tissue. It is also important to replenish salt, especially if you sweat a lot during exercise. This is the one time when you can forget all that talk about a low-sodium diet.
Spano says if you see white salt crystals on your body during or after strenuous exercise – I plead guilty – do something about it quickly.
That’s why we have Gatorade and Powerade and all those other sports drinks that replenish electrolytes.
So what do I plan to eat after Sunday’s Marine Corps Marathon?
A big bowl of matzo ball soup at my favorite deli. It is hydration, sodium, carbs and a little protein all rolled into one. My mom – who once said she could not believe that her kid had taken up running – would approve.
Now I have my food figured out, my running gear washed and ready and my training done. All I have to do is pace myself through 26.2 miles.