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Dear Coach: What’s The Difference Between Eating Healthy And Fueling?

  • By Marni Sumbal
  • Published Jan 7, 2014
  • Updated Feb 20, 2014 at 9:57 PM UTC

As a clinical dietitian, I eat for nourishment and for disease prevention. As a seven-time Ironman finisher and coach, I view food as fuel. Food gives me energy before my workouts, helps to postpone fatigue during workouts and enhances recovery.

My philosophy with eating is “health first, performance second.” Amazingly, the same foods that boost the immune system and reduce risk for disease, such as fruits, veggies, grains, nuts, seeds, legumes, plant proteins, fish and low-fat dairy, can also support a body that is seeking performance gains through structured training.

Because you don’t have to be an Ironman, let alone a triathlete, to be “healthy,” keep in mind that if you are choosing to stress your body with structured training, you must fuel your body properly in order to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

The biggest difference between eating to stay healthy versus eating to perform well is prioritizing fuel around workouts, when the body is under the most training stress. Even if you are seeking body composition changes, if you are trying to be consistent with your workout routine, gain a competitive edge and reduce risk of injury, never overlook the importance of pre-, during and post-workout nutrition to accommodate your daily workout training load. For example, if you energize your body with a banana with peanut butter and honey before a workout, postpone fatigue with well-formulated sport drinks to provide water, electrolytes and carbohydrates during a workout and refuel with a glass of milk post-workout, you are well on your way to using “sport nutrition” properly. With the right fuels before, during and after your workouts, your body will favorably adapt to your training load as you also reap the benefits of consistent training with a healthy body and mind.

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Whether due to lack of time or making it less of a priority, athletes often overlook the importance of daily eating for health benefits. Never forget that an unhealthy body cannot perform, no matter how much sports nutrition you provide it with. Because your nutrition surrounding workouts is only as effective as your day-to-day diet (which fuels your workouts and lifestyle routine), it’s important to always prioritize a real-food, balanced diet with plenty of vitamins (see our guidelines on page 80), minerals, antioxidants and electrolytes to provide your active body with a variety of macro- and micronutrients to support healthy and daily living.

Simple Training Fuel

Pre-workout: Banana with peanut butter and honey
During: Sport drinks for water, electrolytes and carbohydrates to postpone fatigue
Post-workout: Glass of milk to refuel

RELATED: Train Your Body To Fuel Efficiently

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