Busted: 5 fuel myths for hungry athletes

Athletes often eat because, depleted of essential energy from the sports and adventures they undertake, they really are hungry. But not always.

Why do some men and women seem regularly satiated while others keep running to the snack cabinet? How much fluid do active adults require?

Do we really need a “sugar bar” every time we go out for a bike ride?

Slade Prestwich enjoys some fresh food on Madagascar on March 26th, 2015 // Alan Van Gysen/Red Bull Content Pool // P-20150708-00063 // Usage for editorial use only // Please go to www.redbullcontentpool.com for further information. //
It’s not uncommon for athletes to overeat and under-drink. Photo: Courtesy of Alan Van Gysen/Red Bull Content Pool

The answers to these questions lie in understanding appropriate hydration and energy replacement. Perhaps instead of fueling our sports, we ought to be thinking about how best to fuel our bodies.

We’ve busted five myths about how athletes eat and drink that will keep you (and your weight) real.

8 glasses is great

You’ve heard the classic 8×8 rule: Drink eight 8-ounce glasses of water a day and you’re good, right?

The problem is that the science behind this notion is shaky at best, not to mention most people tend to underestimate how much fluid intake they’re actually getting on a given day.

RELATED: 4 creative ways to stay hydrated

But if you’re an athlete and work out seriously, start by calculating your estimated daily hydration requirements based on your sex, weight and age. We generally need to get about 80 percent from liquids and 20 percent from fluids found in food.

Just add electrolytes

To recover properly, try to drink 1.5 times the amount of water you lose within two hours. Photo: Courtesy of WikiCommons
Athletes can’t possibly know how much and what type of replenishing fluid to add into a daily diet if they don’t really understand how much they sweat.

Bodies can vary wildly in rate of perspiration, which can also change as we age.

You can try an online sweat calculator or hook up with a qualified trainer or sports dietitian to measure how much fluid loss you’ll need to replenish with electrolyte-based beverage combinations before, during and after exercise, based on variables such as body temperature, exercise intensity and outdoor conditions.

A general guideline for proper hydration for recovery is to drink 1.5 times the amount of water you lose within two hours.

Hunger is dehydration in disguise

Despite what you may have heard about our brains confusing the “feeling” of thirst with hunger due to dehydration, there is no clear evidence to support that this is the case.

While the hypothalamus is indeed responsible for regulating both thirst and hunger, registered dietitian/nutritionist and sports-performance specialist Andrew Dole told GrindTV that research shows thirst is more compelling and more stable throughout the day than hunger in most populations, except the aging/elderly.

“Thirst is a much stronger drive than hunger. You’ve heard about people going three to four weeks without eating, but you’re really going to need a drink in a couple days to stay alive,” Dole says.

“Our bodies know when we’re truly hungry versus thirsty.”

If it’s weight loss you’re after, sure, drink a glass of water before your next snack or meal to make sure you’re not overeating.

Laser focus on fuel to go

When fed a diet sufficient in energy and macronutrients, the human body has the capacity to go about two to two and a half hours on stored energy alone, says Dole.

“We really don’t need food, especially not a sugar-laden bar, for a bike ride that’s not going to last longer than two hours or so,” he explains. “In fact, extra calories and difficulty losing weight while exercising is a direct result of over-nutrition, especially with beverages.

“Water is just fine for up to 90 minutes of exercise, but be wary of extreme heat, humidity and longer efforts. You’ll want to start drinking a smart electrolyte liquid [under those conditions].”

Better yet, focus on what you eat before and after you exercise for efforts under 2.5 hours.

I exercise, therefore I can eat — a lot

Dole says he regularly sees athletes who overeat. It’s like the bar on the bike: We think we need it, but we don’t really require the extra calories or energy source.

Likewise, it’s common to nosh on things our bodies crave post-workout, like carbs and salt, especially when not properly hydrated during physical activity.

These tend to be snack foods that don’t restock the essentials we’ve lost, which translates to way too many empty calories. Athletes would be better off continuing to drink after a sweat session and then grabbing a smaller, more balanced snack of carbohydrates and a lean protein, which will promote fullness.

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