The other week, we went to the Rogers Cup and we ran into sports dietitian and strength & conditioning coach Nanci S. Guest, MSc, RD, CSCS, PhD candidate. Nanci has worked with some of the top names in the high-performance sport and was even the Head Dietitian at the Toronto 2015 Pan Am Games.
One of the biggest things we loved about the Rogers Cup was seeing how strong and athletic the women players were. So we thought, hey: maybe Nanci might have some great tips for us to follow to get a great tennis body. So we asked for her for the best seven tips in sports nutrition to get your best body, no matter if you’re dedicated to the gym or not. Check out our Q&A below for Nanci’s top nutrition tips that you can implement into your own life today!
Edit Seven: Obviously, people should eat a balanced meal each day – but how should people tailor that?
Nanci S. Guest: The main factor to consider is – what is your goal? Do you need to gain muscle? Lose body fat? Maintain? To gain: you’ll likely need to train harder in the gym (along with training for your sport) and eat more – of everything! However, protein sufficiency is important for overall health as well as getting lean (it’s filling) and building muscle. Whether animal or plant-source protein, it really should be central to most meals/snacks. Lots of veggies, some fruits and healthy fats. Grains likely have the largest discrepancies: 4-6-8+ servings of whole grain cereals, breads, pasta, but only if you are training 2-4 hrs per day and/or looking to gain weight (muscle), and we often use these higher intakes with males (some large males are burning through 5,000+ kcal/day!). If you are smaller (usually female) and needing to drop bodyfat and/or your training is not as intense (less kcals expended) zero to 1-2 servings of grains would be sufficient and recommended. Being a researcher of personalized nutrition through nutrigenomics testing to improve performance I am a strong proponent for individualized recommendations. So really, you need to sit down one-on-one to establish needs. Consider Your: genetics, food preferences and dislikes, allergies/sensitivities, potential culture/religious restriction, budget, cooking skills… many factors play into the optimal diet for YOU.
E7: Should you not eat more than you can burn?
NSG: Well muscle cannot be made from air so you actually need to eat MORE than you burn to create muscle. If you seek “weight maintenance” or you have achieved your ideal body composition, then yes: balance calorie intake with calorie expenditure. Lastly, if you’re looking to lose you know what to do: eat less and/or burn more. I like to tell/ask my athletes “Every night you go to bed in one of THREE states: Calorie surplus, calories balance or calorie deficit – does this match your goal?” “How can you do better tomorrow? Have a plan!”
E7: Should you be eating specific foods that can support your immune system and muscle growth, what are they?
NSG: Believe it or not of all the “immune supplements” out there like Vitamin C, glutamine, zinc etc – carbohydrate adequacy seems to be the most protective when we are looking to stay healthy, focused and illness-free. Ensuring adequate fuel supply in your muscle as glycogen and in your bloodstream (as glucose) during exercise suppresses a stress hormone called “cortisol”. It is this hormone that negatively impacts the strength and numbers of our immune cells, that protect us from illness. And we must mention probiotics when discussing a strong and stable immune system. Active bacterial cultures in yogurts (and some other fermented foods like sauerkraut, kefir), especially when we get into the multi-millions or billions of bacteria (read labels!), is an essential dietary component for athletes who travel a lot, experience disrupted sleep and often train beyond what many of us could handle. The harder you are on your body, the more (nutritional) support you need. I also like to add more concentrated sources and a probiotic supplement (Activa and Bio-K, or Renew Life capsules), especially for athletes who get sick often. Finally, protein plays a critical role in the production of all the cells in your immune system, so aim for ~0.35-0.4 g of protein PER KG of bodyweight at every meal 4-5x / day. Eg 25-28 g per meal 4-5 x per day if you weight 70 kg.
E7: Obviously, hydration is key, but just how beneficial is it when working out?
NSG: Very important! Both mental focus and physical performance depend on adequate hydration and fluid intakes. And guess what? Studies show many athletes are dehydrated but they are actually not even thirsty. So, you can’t rely on thirst. Weigh yourself before and after training (remember to remove sweaty clothes which are heavy!) and for every pound lost drink 3 cups water. Also look for light yellow urine and lots of it. Dark urine in small amts (1/2 cup or less) more than 4-5 hours apart signals that you are likely dehydrated.
E7: How important are protein powders?
NSG: Protein powders are for convenience only, and some busy athletes need that convenience. However, they offer no superior nutritional benefits when compared to real food. Many people don’t realize both casein and whey powder are dried milk! These are the two main proteins in milk and other dairy foods. Why not just eat the whole food, as opposed to paying for loads of processing to make it into a well-marketed “milk powder”? Milk and yogurt are easy ready-to-eat/drink sources of high quality protein. Did you know a cup of Greek yogurt has the same amount of protein as a cup of beef or chicken? And more convenient for on the go. My new fav is Oikos 0% Greek – so creamy yet fat free! Top with walnuts/Chia seeds/mixed berries – BOOM – nutrient packed!
E7: Should people indulge in a post-workout snack or meal? If so, when and what?
NSG: ‘Indulge’ makes is sound undeserved! Absolutely – whether you are highly active for fitness or you’re a competitive athlete, when you train hard you need to recover. Carb/fuel recovery is not critical unless you are training again in less than 12-14 hrs. Eat normally, include carbs. Protein however needs to be eaten frequently and is a key part of recovery and effective adaptations to training. Examples include: yogurt (Greek 2x protein), milk, fish/poultry, soy beverages, vegan protein powders. Although we store ~2000 kcal worth of carbs as ‘glycogen’ in muscle and liver, and even the leanest athletes have plenty of stored fat, we don’t store protein. Therefore, we need to consume it often – every 3-4 hrs so we are ready to repair, grow or just stay healthy with plenty of available amino acids present in our bloodstream (from the last protein meal).
E7: Is it bad to exercise on an empty stomach – if you’re worried about doing this – what do you suggest people eat?
NSG: Turns out this is okay occasionally. We actually do this strategically (empty stomach or empty muscles by depleting then not eating) with athletes to stimulate the production of mitochondria (the power houses of your cells), but this should be monitored by coaching staff and not carried often as it can have immune/over training consequences. You won’t be able to achieve a high quality, high intensity training session without a pre-exercise snack/meal but certainly for low-moderate or recovery sessions it’s just fine. Easy Fix: give your brain and muscles a top up by using a sports drink (eg Gatorade, Powerade use a 50% concentration, which is already a lower % concentration of carbs) or homemade: mix 50/50 juice (fresh OJ with pulp drained is my go-to) and water sip-as-you-go, and my fav: 1 cup watermelon + 1 cup ice + 1 cup water + pinch salt – in blender, then hit the gym, track, field practice etc. This rocks in the heat and very popular with athletes! If you can stomach liquids try a cup of low fat dairy or plant-based milk and a small cup of juice or 2 bites of a banana – this quick digesting ~100 kcal snack may be the difference between a good workout and a great one.
(Story by Contributing Editor, Ama Scriver)