#1: You Eat Too Little (or Too Much) Protein
Some athletes eat too little protein; others eat too much. Too little protein and your muscles can’t recover, repair and strengthen properly from hard training. Too much protein taxes your kidneys, leads to an excessive calorie intake (which can result in excess body fat), or replaces the other equally important foods and nutrients that are needed for optimal performance.
Solution: Determine your daily protein needs and develop the meal plans that will deliver the appropriate amount for your exercise level. And remember: Don't overdo it on the protein shakes, either. Not every athlete really needs these supplements, and they can contribute to excessive protein intake.
#2: You're Skimping on Iron
Iron deficiency causes needless fatigue and reduced performance and is particularly common among women who have heavy periods, participate in endurance events, and rarely or never eat red meat or iron-enriched foods (like breakfast cereals).
Solution: If you feel needlessly tired, get your blood tested by your doctor, and be sure to get your serum ferritin measured. Don’t take an iron supplement without confirmation of low iron or advice from your doctor.
To help prevent anemia, strive to eat an iron-rich diet featuring:
- Beef, pork, lamb, dark-meat chicken or turkey, salmon and tuna
- Beans (black, kidney, garbanzo, navy, great Northern, etc.)
- Iron-fortified cereals and iron-fortified whole grain breads, pasta and brown rice
To enhance iron absorption, have a vitamin-C rich food at every meal such as orange juice, berries, kiwi, broccoli, tomato, potato and sweet bell peppers.
#3: You Don't Have Time to Eat After Working Out
At the end of a hard workout, remember that you haven't finished your training until you have refueled. Ideally, this should happen within the 30 minutes to 2 hours after your workout ends. Don't rush off to work or school, using the "no time to eat" excuse.
Solution: Plan ahead so you have recovery foods readily available. Even in a time crunch, you should be able to refuel your muscles properly. Post-workout nutrition doesn't have to be complicated. Think yogurt-fruit smoothie, a large glass of chocolate milk, or English muffin with peanut butter. "No time" is no excuse.
#4: You Skimp on Carbs
Recovery foods should offer a foundation of carbohydrates with protein as the accompaniment—not the other way around. The complete package is needed. You need to fill those glycogen (energy) stores with carbohydrates to fuel future workouts and repair your hard-working muscles with a little protein. One or the other won't cut it.
Solution: A reasonable target is to consume about 180-240 calories of carbohydrates (45-60 grams) and about 65-80 calories (15-20 grams) of protein after a high-intensity workout. Standard food fare works fine (no shakes, supplements or specialty bars needed). Some popular choices include Greek yogurt with fruit and honey, pasta with meat sauce, or chicken and veggies over rice.
#5: You're Not Drinking Enough
To train harder and perform better, you need to stay well-hydrated. Losing just one percent of your body weight in sweat causes your heart to beat three to five more times per minute, thus creating even more fatigue during your workout or event.
Solution: If you are well-hydrated, you will need to urinate every two to four hours, and your urine will be a light color. If you sweat heavily, you need to learn how much fluid you lose (and thereby need to replace) during a workout. Do this by weighing yourself naked before and after exercise. For each pound lost, you should drink at least 16 to 24 ounces of fluid. Be sure to drink adequately all day, not just during or after your workouts.