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What is the most common sports nutrition mistake people make?

Katie Davis
Nutrition & Dietetics
I wish I could say it was something exciting like eating too much protein or taking unnecessary supplements. While these are very common, the most common is inadequate hydration. When I have an athlete tell me, "I drink enough water", 95% of the time...they don't. And properly hydrating is important, as dehydration affects focus and concentration and prevents important nutrients from being transported to working muscle.

But how do you know if you're adequately hydrating? Drink enough fluid to have straw-colored urine. Though note that if you take vitamin and mineral supplements, those can affect the color of your urine. My advice is to take two days off from your supplements so you can see what "clean" urine looks like. That way you will know how your urine color will be affected by dehydration vs. supplements.

Another good rule of thumb is to stay ahead of your thirst mechanism. If you're thirsty, you're already dehydrated! There has been some argument about this over the internet, but the truth is that yes -- you really should stay ahead of thirst. Just be sure to balance this with the color of your urine -- if it is clear, you can back off of hydrating.

The third way to monitor hydration is by body weight. Weigh yourself immediately before and after you work out in as little clothing as possible. Drink at least 24 oz. of fluid for every pound you lose. The goal is to hydrate enough during exercise to not lose any weight.

Remember you will also take in water through your foods -- especially fruits and vegetables.

So, as you can see from everything above, just blankly following the old "8 cups of water a day" advice just might not be necessary for your body size and level of activity.
A common error is the belief that you need all sorts of special products and supplements because you are working out. Eating plenty of healthy foods will cover the needs of most active people -- including recreational, collegiate, and even many professional athletes. Once you are in the elite athlete category, we try to fine tune every single system for a competitive advantage, but even then we don’t always add pills, potions, and products and we rely instead on hard training, a sound diet, and great genetics.
Failure to hydrate adequately. A study by the Gatorade Sports Science Institute showed that 50% of exercisers start a workout dehydrated, and a Sports Science Exchange Roundtable concluded athletes rarely drink enough fluids during training sessions and competitions to offset sweat losses, even when they have unlimited access to beverages.

Dehydration can diminish energy and impair performance. Even 2% dehydration can result in a double digit loss in performance, and you can be 2% dehydrated and not feel thirsty! Dehydration increases the risk of injury, increases physical and mental fatigue, and result in headaches and muscle cramps.

Hydrate well before workouts and competitions, including two cups of fluid about 2 hours before and another 8-12 ounces about 20 minutes before. During exercise, aim for 5-12 fluid ounces every 15-20 minutes. An easy self-monitoring for hydration is to check the color of your urine; think lemonade, not apple cider.
Heather R. Mangieri
Nutrition & Dietetics

Inadequate carbohydrates and poor meal timing are two of the most common mistakes that athlete’s make. It is not just what we eat but when we eat it that makes a difference in how we perform. Carbohydrates are the bodies primary energy source and are especially important during higher intensity, high energy expenditure sports. Too often athletes are focused on eating adequate protein and not getting enough carbohydrates, leading to fatigue. Research shows us that most injuries happen in the last 20 minutes of a game or event, a time when carbohydrates are depleting and fatigue is at the highest. Making sure to get adequate fuel before, during and after an event or practice is essential to staying injury free and putting on the best performance possible.

Heidi Skolnik, MS
Sports Medicine
Most people don't realize the importance of precompetition nutrition the day before an event. Pregame fuel should be your priority beginning at lunch the day prior to a match or game. Aim for each meal to be about two-thirds carbohydrates from grains, fruits and vegetables, and about one-third protein. There is no need to restrict fat and fiber at this point because there is still plenty of time for digestion, but you'll want to keep both low as you get closer to game time. It's also important to choose foods that you are accustomed to eating so as to avoid gastrointestinal distress. 

On the day of an event you should consume calories consistently, every two to three hours, to ensure you are properly fueled. For example, if you are competing in the afternoon, your menu may include breakfast, a midmorning snack, lunch, and a pregame sports drink. While it is tempting to sleep in and get extra rest, you will be missing key opportunities to get energy into your system.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.