Frequently Asked Questions on Sports Nutrition

by Christine Hronec

Q: What is the most effective way to lose weight?

A: The only way to lose weight is to create a calorie deficit. One pound of fat equals 3500 calories. So in theory, to lose 1/2 pound to 1 pound a week, you have to create a deficit of 250 to 500 calories per day (either by eating fewer calories or burning more in physical activity). To maximize fat loss, minimize the drop in your metabolism, energy and mood, and increase the chances that you won’t gain it back; lose weight slowly! Decrease your intake slightly by 300-500 calories per day and increase your exercise level. Aim for about 0.5-2 lb. weight loss per week. If you are very overweight, 2 lb. per week is acceptable. But, if you only have a few pounds to drop, the rate should not exceed 0.5-1 lb. per week.

Q: What is the most effective way to gain weight?

A: The only way to gain weight is to create a calorie excess. So, in theory, to gain 1/2 pound to a pound a week, you have to create an excess of 250 to 500 calories per day. Whether or not those extra calories go towards building muscle or body fat depends on whether or not you exercise. Of course, as with weight loss, genetic differences make it easier for some people to gain weight and harder for others. If your metabolism speeds way up every time you eat more, you may have to consume many more calories before you’ll achieve results.

Q: How can I gain muscle and lose fat?

A: It is difficult for the body to build muscle and lose fat at the same time. Building muscle requires calories. If you are restricting calories to lose undesired body fat, your body does not have the fuel it needs to create new muscle tissue. Instead, the body breaks down muscle to use for fuel. A dieting athlete can minimize muscle loss by following these tips:

  • Fat loss at a slow rate by a small calorie deficit.
  • Protein intake equivalent to 1 gram per pound of body mass
  • Consuming meals every 2-3 hours for a constant source of fuel and protein.
  • Strength training to help protect against muscle loss

Q: What should I eat to recover after exercise?

A: After a moderate workout (i.e. light cardio or non-competitive sports), you need not worry about rapidly refueling because your muscles are not depleted. But if you have done exhaustive exercise (including competitive sports, intense weight training, and/or intense cardiovascular exercise), you should plan to replace carbs, water and sodium as soon as tolerable–particularly if you will be exercising again within six hours. Adding moderate amounts of protein and branched chain amino acids to the recovery meal assists in repairing damaged muscles and reduces muscle soreness.

  • For a 150-pound athlete, the recommended carb dose for rapid recovery is approximately 75 grams of carbohydrates post workout.
  • A wise protein target is about 15 to 30 grams protein for a 150-lb athlete, taken right after (and/or during) exercise. (More precisely: 0.5 g carb/lb and 0.1-0.2 g protein/lb)
  • Suggested supplements include whey protein isolate plus a banana, branched chain amino acids, as well as L-glutamine to be taken within 30 minutes of intense training post-workout.

Q: What’s the bottom line for consuming protein and building muscle?


  • The most important factor to building muscle is resistance training.
  • Make sure you consume adequate calories to build new muscle tissue. Increase your total calorie intake by 350-500 calories every day to gain about 1 pound per week.
  • Make sure you consume adequate carbohydrate to meet your energy needs for heavy training (and to spare the protein you eat for its building functions). It’s especially important to consume carbohydrate (along with a little protein) immediately after your work-outs to promote recovery and building.
  • Be sure to consume adequate protein from a variety of animal and/or plant foods or from protein supplements. Most people should aim for about 10-35% of total calories from protein.
  • Emphasize protein-rich foods that are low in saturated fat, such as lean meats, skinless poultry, fish, egg whites, 1% low fat or fat free milk products, beans, nuts, tofu, or other soy-based meat alternatives.
  • That doesn’t mean it’s bad to enjoy a couple slices of pizza or a big juicy burger once in a while. Just balance it out by eating other foods that are low in saturated fat at other meals during the day.
  • Try to include one serving of a protein-rich food with each meal to insure that you are getting enough protein and to increase the satiety value of your meals. Protein, like fat, makes you feel full longer after you eat than if you ate a meal with just carbohydrate.
  • If you’re on the go and don’t have time to eat protein-rich foods, a high protein drink or energy bar (with 20-30 g protein per serving) can come in quite handy. Just be sure that it is low in saturated fat and hydrogenated vegetable oils.

Q: Do carbohydrates make you fat?

A: Despite what a lot of the latest diet books claim, carbohydrates (like pasta, bread, potatoes, and fruit) are not fattening in and of themselves. Excess calories (whether from carbohydrate, protein, fat, or alcohol) are converted to and stored as body fat in your body. The only way that carbohydrates can become fattening is if you eat too many of them (too many calories from ANY source can be fattening) or if you smother them with tons of high fat/high calorie sauces and spreads. Over the past several years, portion sizes of carbohydrate-rich foods have doubled or even tripled in restaurants. As a result, we have become accustomed to jumbo, deluxe, and super-sized portions whether we eat out or at home. Take a look at the calorie difference between recommended serving sizes of carbohydrate-rich foods and typical restaurant serving sizes. For every tablespoon of butter, margarine, or even “heart-healthy” olive oil you add to bread, potatoes, or pasta you’ve packed on an extra 100-120 calories. If you add 1/4 cup of pesto or 1/2 cup of alfredo sauce, you’ve got 300 additional calories.

Q: Should I train with low glycogen stores, and then compete when carbo-loaded?

A: While the “train low, compete high” method is an interesting concept, research has yet to prove it will enhance performance. Theoretically, training “low” stimulates physiological adaptations that spare muscle glycogen and allow greater endurance. Athletes are typically unable to train at a high intensity when their muscles are glycogen depleted. In addition, training with glycogen-depleted muscles increases the risk of injury. Eat an adequate amount of carbs daily fuels your muscles sufficiently to train hard on a daily basis.

Q. What dose of caffeine is best to enhance performance?

A: Although responses to caffeine vary greatly from person to person it is recommended to consume 1.5 mg caffeine per pound of body weight (3 mg/kg)–or about 225 mg for a 150-lb athlete. Higher doses of caffeine offer no performance advantages and can create the disadvantage of sleep problems that end up hurting performance. While caffeine is a legal central nervous system stimulant, it

Q: Which is better: sports drinks or water during a competitive event or training?

A: If the duration of the activity for an individual athlete is fairly continuous for 1 hour or longer, a sports drink is the preferred beverage to support the replacement of lost electrolytes. However, if the activity lasts less than 1 hour, water is the best option. In either case, an athlete should have about 6-8 ounces of fluid replacement every 30 minutes during strenuous, continuous activity.

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