Debunking exercise nutrition myths

College students spend a great deal of time on exercise. A 1993 survey of NIU students showed that nearly three out of four students spend two or more hours out of the week exercising and more than two out of five spend four or more hours each week exercising.

As with any popular behavior, folklore and street talk are common source of misinformation among athletes and fitness folks. Eating habits and nutrition issues are common sources of questions and discussion for students who exercise.

Below are three common myths about nutrition and exercise. It is a summary of information first published in a 1986 issue of MEDICAL SELF-CARE magazine and according to Mike Braid, head athletic trainer in Intercollegiate Athletics, the information is as true in 1993 as it was in 1986.

MYTH * 1—You need extra protein when exercising to build muscles.

Muscles need fuel in the form of carbohydrates, not proteins. Since protein is not good fuel food and the body cannot store it, excess protein is broken down. This breaking-down process releases toxic by-products like urea.

Excess urea from a high protein diet makes the kidneys work overtime and can cause dehydration. Extra dietary protein also causes increased blood acidity which can cause fatigue, irritability and calcium loss.

Americans generally consume twice as much protein as they need. A 120 lb. person needs 43 gm of protein daily; a 150 lb. person needs 53 gm/day.

One cup of milk, yogurt, or cottage cheese and one serving (4oz.) of fish or chicken provides the 43 gm. One more serving of either meat, beans, or dairy products meets the 53 gm requirements.

MYTH* 2—Loss of electrolytes like potassium and sodium during exercise require replacement with electrolyte replacement fluids (ERF) such as Gator Aide or ERG.

Body concentrations of electrolytes actually increase during exercise due to water lost through sweat. Electrolyte fluid replacement drinks may inhibit the body’s ability to absorb water and actually contribute to dangerous dehydration. Many sports drinks actually promote dehydration. They contain water which is concentrated with sugar and minerals. This combination slows down gastric emptying time: the water sits in the stomach instead of being absorbed in to the blood stream. This stomach condition may cause cramping or nausea during exercising.

MYTH * 3—Carbo-loading improves athletic performance.

Sometimes! Eating large amounts of carbohydrate foods (pasta, bread, muffins, etc.) for a day or two before an athletic event is beneficial ONLY for endurance competition and long distance events (marathons, triathlons, dance-a-thons, etc.). Recreational athletes and middle distance competitors are better off with a balanced diet of fresh whole foods with 60% of the calories coming from carbohydrates. Also, research has shown that the practice of carbo-depletion in preparation to carbo-loading is unnecessary and potentially dangerous.

Written by Steve Lux MS – Health Enhancement Services