Food as fitness fuel
While some of the tips our fitness professionals offered reiterated what most people take as common sense, things like eating a balanced diet and following the "all things in moderation" credo, some of their suggestions were unexpected.
Like the glass of low-fat chocolate milk Spinnler likes to drink within a half hour of rigorous exercise. "It's one of the best things you can do," said Spinnler, who got the tip from a fellow athlete after a tough race.
Spinnler said the protein and the carbohydrates in a glass of chocolate milk help speed recovery after intense exercise. Protein helps rebuild muscle and the carbohydrates help replenish energy.
Personal trainer Dustin Dyer, 23, of Clear Spring, said carbohydrates get a bad rap. Dyer, who works at Gold's Gym in Hagerstown, is training for his first bodybuilding competition in August.
Typically, when you think of body building, you think lean protein a la baked chicken breast - which he eats. But he said carbs are a very important aspect of his diet.
He's talking about complex carbs. He avoids simple carbs, like the sugar in candy.
"Simple carbs just spike your energy," Dyer said.
Instead, he incorporates into his diet complex carbs - oatmeal, whole grains, sweet potatoes and brown rice. "They're slower burning carbs," he said.
Customize diet for performance
Sugar is the reason O'Haver said she favored water over sports drinks. Sports drinks are laced with sugar; water is not. The makers of sports drinks have held that, unlike water, their beverages offer athletes electrolytes, which are lost when you sweat. Electrolytes, such as potassium, are essential for the body's growth and maintenance.
The bottom line is, no matter what the activity, professional athletes have to feed their bodies in order to pre-empt the depletion of glycogen in the blood, or what athletes call "bonking" or "running out of gas."
For active adults, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to nutrition.
"A lot of it really does depend on an individual," said Houpt, who facilitates the Healthy Balance program at Chambersburg Memorial YMCA. Healthy Balance is a national program that folds in nutrition and menu planning with exercise and stress reduction.
Houpt said people who sign up for Healthy Balance get custom-fit nutritional advice and a workout regimen tailored specially to their body types and training goals.
Healthy Balance is one approach, but the key takeaway is that highly active adults should consult a professional before they craft any sort of dietary strategy, Houpt said.
Avoid fads; consult science
Spinnler, 50, said in his years as an athlete and coach, he's seen sports nutrition trends come and go. He recalled the 1970s-era salt tablets he remembers runners touting. These went away for good reason. The salt caused bloating.
"It's kind of laughable to think about," Spinnler said.
But Spinnler said new science has changed what athletes are eating now. Spinnler said over-the-counter products like energy bars, electrolyte tablets and other products are attempting to speed up the effects of natural foods.
He said nowadays you might see a marathoner slurp down pudding-flavored gel in order to get a quick carb jolt. Or see a cyclist swallow a tiny electrolyte tablet during a race.
"But who's to say years from now we won't look back at these things and laugh," Spinnler said.
The Herald-Mail asked fitness professionals what athletes are eating and what benefits these food provide. Many foods they recommended are easy to find at the grocery store. Here's what they had to say:
Apples -- A good source of unrefined sugar. Endurance athletes need carbs to serve as an energy reservoir.