Sports Nutrition: Trending Topics

November 7, 2013

Today I bring you a new addition to KERF – nutrition trends from dietitians! About once a month I am hoping to host a dietitian to write about a topic he or she specializes in {please email me if you’re interested}. The first post is from Christina, who is a sports dietitian and writes at The Fueled Athlete.


Do you eat a meal or snack within an hour of working out?

Are you actually sleeping 7-9 hours per night?

Is your vitamin D level >40ng/mL?

If you answered “No” or “I don’t know?” to any of these questions, then this post is for you! Read along to see how these three questions actually tie together for you to have optimal recovery.

Recovery Foods

Recovery… it’s not just about stretching after that workout or staying hydrated. The muscles and overall body show optimal recovery when ingesting ~20-30g of protein and ~20-100g of carbohydrate post-workout. Carbohydrate intake varies according to your particular sport and current goal.

For example, here are the needs based on a particular goal:

Weight Loss: 20g protein/20g carbohydrate

Weight Maintenance or Strength workout: 20-30g protein/40g carbohydrate

Weight Gain (muscle mass) or Endurance workout: 20-30g protein/40-100g carbohydrate

It can get even more specific if you have a dietitian or strength coach measure your current body fat percentage (which would also give your lean muscle mass weight) and then calculate your needs based on that number. For most active people and even serious athletes, the numbers above work really well.

There really isn’t a need for supplements when recovering from a workout. The most important factor is the blend of protein & carbohydrates from whole foods that don’t contain artificial ingredients and fillers like many supplements. Everyone knows Kath is a fan of real food. So am I! Here are some examples in real food format:

Weight Loss:

  • 1 container (6oz.) Greek yogurt with 1 handful almonds, ¾ cup berries
  • 2 corn tortillas, 2 scrambled eggs, 1 slice or ¼ cup 2% cheese, ¼ avocado

Weight Maintenance/Strength workout:

  • Power Oatmeal: 1 serving oatmeal, 1 tbsp. peanut or almond butter, ½ cup cottage cheese, chopped banana (OR add 2 boiled eggs on the side in place of the cottage cheese)
  • PB/Banana sandwich on whole grain bread (2 tbsp PB, 1 banana, 2 pieces bread)

Weight Gain/Endurance:

  • Smoothie: 6-8oz. Greek yogurt with 1 banana, 1 cup blueberries, 8oz. POM juice (or any 100% or homemade juice), 1 tbsp peanut or almond butter
  • Breakfast Sandwich: 1 whole wheat English muffin, 2 eggs (or 4 egg whites), 1 slice 2% cheese, 2 bananas, 8oz. skim milk

As soon as you consume a recovery meal or snack, the cortisol (stress hormone) that is produced as a consequence of your workout starts to decrease so the body can truly recover. When exercising, you make small tears in your muscle. As you replenish with food, the muscle heals and grows.

Some might ask… Why would I want to eat soon after exercising if I’m trying to lose weight? You still want to eat post-workout for optimal recovery. If you’re trying to lose weight, it’s the overall calorie intake of the day that will matter most.


Sleep plays a major role in your body’s ability to recover and reach your goals! A research study showed 4 days of sleep restriction caused:

  • Decreased max bench press
  • Delayed visual/auditory reaction time including slower decision making
  • Impaired cognitive/motor function
  • One full night of sleep loss = legally intoxicated
  • 11% reduction in time to exhaustion = impaired endurance ability
  • Increased risk of injury (related to <6 hours of sleep)
  • 1 week of sleep loss = elevated cortisol levels which can interfere with tissue repair and growth (think about muscles healing)

Try these ideas for improved sleep:

#1 – Adults need 7-9 hours of sleep; Athletes need 8-10 hours of sleep. Consider yourself an athlete if you exercise for 1+ hours on most days of the week.

#2 – Go to bed at a consistent time! This is especially important if you have varying morning schedules.

#3 – Turn your bedroom into a cave. Make sure it’s quiet, dark and cool. Don’t be afraid to turn on that fan.

#4 – If you’re having trouble falling asleep, get up to read for 15 minutes then try going back to bed. Don’t lie there thinking about why you can’t sleep. It only makes it worse.

#5 – Skip the alcohol before an important competition. It can reduce quality of sleep prohibiting you from getting that deep sleep cycle which causes you to wake up more tired.

#6 – When eating close to bedtime, make sure your snack is 50/50 protein & carbohydrates (2% cheese & crackers, Banana & peanut/almond butter, ½ turkey sandwich on whole wheat). Avoid spicy foods! Waking up early to workout? Keep a water bottle handy near the bed. Start drinking water as soon as you wake up to begin hydrating.

#7 – Naps can help! A study found a 30 minute nap following sleep loss improved an athlete’s 20m sprint time by .09 seconds. Don’t nap if you have trouble sleeping on a regular basis.

#8 – When all else fails, try the caffeine nap. Drink coffee (which takes ~15-30 minutes to take effect), take a 20-30 minute power nap, and wake up with a boost from the caffeine & nap!

Vitamin D

What’s so important about vitamin D? It’s actually so important for the body that the recommendations keep getting bumped up. Not only is vitamin D good for bone health, one of it’s primary roles is to transport calcium. Calcium is the mineral that is imperative for muscle contraction. Without adequate vitamin D, an athlete is more prone to muscle weakness, balance issues leading to falls, and stress fractures.

Most people think of the sun when they hear vitamin D. While the sun is our best source of vitamin D, there are many reasons why we don’t absorb enough.

  • Usually, we aren’t the right distance from the equator. The time of day is critical for absorbing vitamin D.
  • Depending on the season and cloud cover, there may not be the right rays of sunshine coming down.
  • Sunblock. SPF15, which is important for protection, results in a 99% decrease in vitamin D absorption.
  • Skin pigment. The darker the skin, the harder it is to absorb vitamin D.

Some of the best sources of vitamin D in our food are:

Salmon (fatty fish), egg yolks, and fortified foods (milk, cereals, OJ)

The process of absorbing vitamin D through food is only ~50% efficient. Without adequate calcium levels, it’s not efficient at all.

Here are the current recommendations:



If you’ve had your vitamin D level checked by the doctor and know your levels (ask next time you visit if you don’t!), here’s a quick guide:

< 20ng/mL – considered deficient

< 40ng/mL – considered enough for metabolic needs

> 40ng/mL – vitamin D stored in muscle and fat for future use

Body requires 3000-5000IU vitamin D per day to meet ALL needs

Toxicity seen > 150ng/mL

This graph from a 2012 paper on Vitamin D & Athletic Performance is a great summary:


Athletes with levels between 40-50ng/mL show improved VO2 max, reduced inflammation and improved immune system function.

Recommendations: Athletes with a deficiency need up to 5000IU/day for 8 weeks. Once they are in a good range, 1000-2000IU/day is sufficient for maintenance. Get your levels checked!

Since there are so few foods high in vitamin D (unless you eat wild salmon almost daily), this is one of the rare times that supplementation may be the best choice. Make sure to use a brand that is third party tested (Check USP or NSF to see brands). Also check that you are getting vitamin D3, the active form that the body absorbs the best. Most multivitamins have ~1000IU of vitamin D3. If you aren’t deficient, this is a good maintenance level to go along with vitamin D rich foods.

For a vitamin D rich dish, try out this tasty salmon! Wild salmon is found to have ~1000IU vitamin D3 in a 3-5oz portion.

Lemon & Garlic Salmon


  • 1 lb salmon (Wild, if possible – Farmed salmon shows to have only ~25% of the vitamin D of Wild)
  • 1 handful fresh parsley, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tbsp onion powder
  • 1.5 tsp Dijon mustard
  • Salt & pepper to taste
  • 1/4 cup mild olive oil
  • 2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • Lemon slices


1. In a small bowl, combine ingredients parsley through lemon juice.

2. Place salmon in a deep dish to allow it to soak up the marinade.


3. Cover the salmon with marinade. Place lemon slices on top. Allow the salmon to soak up the flavors for 30 minutes to 2 hours.


4. When ready to cook, you can bake or grill the salmon. Bake at 450 for 15 minutes or grill outside for 6-7 minutes on each side.

5. Enjoy!

So… what do post-workout meals, sleep and vitamin D have in common? They are all important tools for helping the body recover. It’s critical to keep cortisol low when trying to change body composition and/or improve performance. Use food and sleep to make this happen!

If you enjoyed this post, please visit me at I just re-launched my blog this week and would love for you to join me!


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{ 56 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Caroline November 7, 2013 at 9:57 am

Love this post! I really enjoy your collaboration with other experts! Thank you.


2 meredith @ The Cookie ChRUNicles November 7, 2013 at 10:00 am

I really liked this post and the tips – so helpful. Thanks!


3 Allison November 7, 2013 at 10:07 am

What do you suggest for someone that can’t eat dairy or grains? I have candida so I need to stay away from grains but I’m also lactose intolerant so can’t do yougart or cheese.


4 Christina Strudwick November 7, 2013 at 10:25 am

Allison –

For the protein, you can use eggs and carbohydrate can be fruit. Keep boiled eggs in the fridge for an easy post-workout snack when combined with berries, cut up melon, apples, etc.

If it’s later in the day – you could combine fish & starchy veggie (sweet potatoes!) or quinoa or beans… edamame is a great carb/protein balanced snack too!

Hope that helps :)


5 Allison November 7, 2013 at 12:33 pm

Thanks! Because of the candida, I can’t eat soy and grain,..which is what the beans and quinoa re considered.


6 Christina Strudwick November 7, 2013 at 2:55 pm

Right – the edamame would have soy. Sorry about that!

As far as quinoa, it provides carbohydrates but isn’t actually a grain. It’s considered a seed and from the same vegetable family as spinach. You can use it in place of oatmeal or like it’s brown rice, pretty versatile!


7 Brittany @ The Fit Phoenician November 7, 2013 at 10:07 am

Nice, informative post!!
I think I’m doing okay with the vitamin D and protein after workouts, but talk to my daughter about the sleep!!! 😉


8 Laura November 7, 2013 at 10:10 am

This post is great-thank you for posting! I’m training for my first 70.3 Ironman next year and this information is so helpful!!!


9 Kinsey November 7, 2013 at 10:10 am

This was such a wonderful post! I often am bad about eating right after I exercise unless it’s a morning workout, and this was a great reminder to have a small snack after an afternoon sweat session. It was so great to have examples of recovery meals because like most people, I don’t have a good sense of what is 20g carbohydrates or 20g protein. I would love to see more posts like these!


10 Melissa November 7, 2013 at 10:32 am

All great tips to keep in mind! Thank you for sharing!


11 Jackie November 7, 2013 at 11:12 am

Wow that’s so helpful!! Thank you!


12 Sara November 7, 2013 at 11:19 am

I love this new addition to KERF! It would most likely be a controversial topic (so maybe you don’t want to host it on your blog, ha), but I would love to hear from an expert/knowledgable professional who can give their opinion on the anthropological side of vegan/vegetarian/meat diets. There are so many claims about what humans should eat based on what early humans ate, the shape of our teeth, etc.
Maybe in a couple of years after I (hopefully) have my RD, I can make a contribution to this cool new post series 😀


13 Olivia at ohmy Olivia November 7, 2013 at 11:46 am

I didn’t know about the caffeine nap – I’m sensing this is going to be a lifesaver! xo


14 Liesl @ Fitnessinthekitchen November 7, 2013 at 12:19 pm

Fantastic post! I’ll be keeping it as a resource for sure.
It always helps to have in mind how you should be fueling post workout, and the Vitamin D info was great.


15 Anele @ Success Along the Weigh November 7, 2013 at 12:33 pm

Wonderful tips. I really need to work on my night owl syndrome. (Thanks a lot mom!) I barely scrape in 6 full hours and I know I need to improve on that. Thanks for the reminder!


16 Dana @ Conscious Kitchen Blog November 7, 2013 at 1:11 pm

This is a great post! I especially enjoyed the tips about eating after a workout. I know I need to be more aware of doing that, but I wasn’t sure how. Loved the food suggestions.


17 Justeen November 7, 2013 at 1:14 pm

This is really informative post. And so interesting! I took a Sports Nutrition class during undergrad as part of my Nutrition minor, and I loved it.


18 Lauryn November 7, 2013 at 1:51 pm

Awesome post!! I love the coffee nap idea!!! Thank you ladies I really enjoyed this and learned a lot!!


19 Alex November 7, 2013 at 1:57 pm

Awesome Post! Quick question though: For a post-workout meal, don’t you want to avoid fat so that digestion is not slowed down?
From what I know (and correct me if I’m wrong!): The protein/carbs are for recovery (repairing the muscles that have been broken down). Wouldn’t the addition of almonds, peanut butter, >0% Yogurt, avocado, etc. slow the repair process?

Thanks!! :)


20 Christina Strudwick November 7, 2013 at 2:46 pm


The fats included contain omega-3 which help with reversing the inflammation caused by exercise. I try to stay around 5-10g fat in a post-workout snack, with the fat being a healthy fat.

You do want to avoid any type of fat (5g or less is usually OK) in a pre-workout snack or meal! The fat does slow down digestion, which is usually a good thing, but can cause upset stomach and GI issues during a workout.

Great question!


21 Anna @ Fitness à la Anna November 7, 2013 at 2:11 pm

Wow, this was a wonderful post – thank you so much Cristina! I always aim to eat within 30mins to an hour after working out, and try to be as consistent as possible with getting enough sleep at night (I’m like a baby – I get very cranky if I don’t get my sleep haha) but I did not realize the connection between vitamin D and recovery – I will make sure to include this in my daily routine :)


22 Ashley @ Hudson on the Potomac November 7, 2013 at 3:59 pm

I really liked this post!! I wasn’t aware of the vitamin D issue. My doctor mentioned checking mine this year at my yearly appointment – I guess because it’s so important! Mine was 39.6… so close, but not quite there!! Glad to know what level I should be at!


23 Charlotte November 7, 2013 at 4:16 pm

This is exactly the kind of well-researched, nutrition-science-based advice that is so rare in most of the opinions you read online. Thanks for this post Christina. I learned so much, and I’m glad to know about your blog so I can start following it.


24 Christina November 7, 2013 at 6:07 pm

Thank you so much for reading along!


25 Tina Muir November 7, 2013 at 4:19 pm

What a wonderful post! Very informative, yet breaks it down based on specific needs. I am an elite athlete and I thought I knew it all about athletes nutrition, but I still learned a lot from this post! I am sure this will help out a lot of people (myself being one of them). I think you have hit on extremely important points that are often taken for granted.

Thanks for a great post, keep it up!


26 Elle November 7, 2013 at 4:54 pm

What a well-researched, well-written post! My daughter is an athlete. I will definitely send this information to her, with a link to your blog. Thanks so much for the great information, Christina!!


27 anne November 7, 2013 at 5:19 pm

Great post! Very informative yet practical.


28 Katie November 7, 2013 at 6:02 pm

Great post, Christina! I love that you incorporated sleep– a sometimes overlooked wellness tool 😉

Turning your bedroom into a cave is key– no TV and no bright lights– even from your alarm clock! I had the brightest alarm clock display on the face of the planet. My room was so much darker when I moved it.

Thanks for the snack ideas, too!


29 Caitlin November 7, 2013 at 6:42 pm

This post was awesome and informative! You’re a great writer!


30 Livi November 7, 2013 at 7:00 pm

these are all awesome ideas!


31 Meghan November 7, 2013 at 7:45 pm

This is such a great and informative post! I’m a college athlete and it’s always nice and refreshing to hear information like this on recovery nutrition. Sometimes I also get in a snack/meal rut after my workouts, but the simple ideas that were listed seem to be tried and true favorites of mine :) I’m excited for more posts like these!!


32 Stefanie November 7, 2013 at 8:09 pm

Great informative post! But I have to say, the McDonalds Happy Meal ad right under the post is throwing me off…


33 Heather McClees (@TheSoulfulSpoon) November 7, 2013 at 10:52 pm

This was a FANTASTIC post! Thank you to introducing me to a new favorite blogger, and a quite smart one at that! I’m a nutrition major and health nut, plus a daily exercising nut, so this was great for me! Loved it!


34 Neil Butterfield November 8, 2013 at 12:26 am

Great advice for people who are serious about their health.


35 C. November 8, 2013 at 5:44 am

So loved this post!! I just had my “D” blood drawn last week and am now in the “know”. I fell in the low side-am now working at bettering the number for the next draw, 3 months recheck. I am a fan of anything “nutrition” posting to help with my workouts. I do have difficulty with the”gr. and grams ” when these posts are given in that format. I so wish the professional would post in “layman” terms. Just saying. I certainly can take-away much here-thanks Kath.


36 Angela November 8, 2013 at 6:30 am

Wow this post was very helpful! I just started getting more serious about my running again and am still trying to figure out what foods work for me and how to recovery properly. Hearing that I should be eating more within an hour of my runs was definitely beneficial. Thanks!!!


37 Sydney November 8, 2013 at 8:28 am

When you are giving examples for foods to consume after a workout, what are you qualifying for a workout? To maintain our weight do we need 20-30g of protein and 40g of carbohydrates after going for a 30 minute walk (that seems pretty excessive), or are your examples only for more lengthy and intense workouts?


38 Christina November 8, 2013 at 11:30 am

The examples are for moderate to high intensity workouts. The maintenance snack of 20g protein and 40g carb would be ~240 calories. To be really specific, you would want to know your daily goal of carbs, protein and fat to make sure your overall day fits your goal (weight loss, maintenance, gain). If it’s pretty low intensity, you could do a 20/20 recovery snack which should be able to fit into most anyone’s day.

No matter what exercise you do, muscles will tear so recovery is important for anyone exercising! Hope that helps! :)


39 Sydney November 8, 2013 at 10:54 pm

Okay great, thank you so much for clarifying! That helps a lot :)


40 Michelle @ A Healthy Mrs November 8, 2013 at 8:41 am

Great information! And that Salmon looks delicious!


41 Emily - It Comes Naturally Blog November 8, 2013 at 8:43 am

I usually exercise in the evening, so I try to have my evening meal within 1 hour of finishing. Because it’s a meal rather than a ‘snack’ I have higher than 20g of protein and 20g carbs – I guess because it falls within my daily calorie requirements, that’s not a problem for weight loss (does that make sense?)?


42 Christina November 8, 2013 at 11:31 am

Emily – that’s correct! If you’re using a meal as recovery, the gram suggestions would be a minimum and your meal level depends on the overall day.


43 Michelle November 8, 2013 at 11:40 am

Very encouraging and practical. Thx. Quick question/maybe another topic for another post…what about pre-workout nutrients? I work out in the morning…but after kids get on bus, so it’s not immediate. I don’t like eating too much, but feel weak afterwards if I don’t eat at all. (I always drink water right away). Suggestions?


44 Christina November 8, 2013 at 6:17 pm


Pre-workout is carbohydrate focused with a little protein – fruit works well for early morning or whole grain cereal, toast, etc.


45 Theodora November 8, 2013 at 4:17 pm

The caffeine nap SAVED MY LIFE in college!


46 Michele November 8, 2013 at 10:32 pm

I have a very low Vitamin D level. I think it was under 10. My Dr. gave me a prescription for Vitamin D which is 1.25 mg. (50,000 Units), which seems like such a high dose. I am suppoed to take it once a week for 9 weeks. I haven’t taken it yet because I’m scared to take so much at once. Is this a safe amount to take?


47 Jeanette November 9, 2013 at 5:11 pm

I had to take that much too and I worried about taking such a high dose at once. My doc let me 1/2 the dose: half on Tuesday, half on Friday. It worked, I doubled my level; going from 12 to 25. Woohoo, I know, but it brought my level high enough to lower my dose. Ask your doctor, maybe they’ll agree. Good luck!


48 Christina November 11, 2013 at 6:26 pm

Michele –

Many Doctors are doing the once a week Rx. If you click the links above to the research papers, it does seem that the daily dose may work better in the long run.

I wouldn’t be worried about the dose because it’s very common but definitely talk to your Doctor if you feel like you want something daily at a smaller dose.


49 Jay November 9, 2013 at 10:11 pm

Great info here as a highland games/strength athlete I’m always looking for proper recovery after a workout or competition.


50 Laura in Pittsburgh November 10, 2013 at 9:08 am

Fantastic post! Thank you for all of the great information! Nutrition seems to be what I struggle with the most when I’m training for a marathon and this is really helpful.


51 Alex @ Kenzie Life November 10, 2013 at 12:42 pm

This was AWESOME! I loved this post! I love the idea of a caffeine nap and the other tips (especially recovery snacks) were very useful!


52 Kayley @ there's love in it all November 11, 2013 at 9:22 am

I love this idea, Kath! I’ve been a long time reader of your blog and I’ve been hoping you’d incorporate more posts related to dietetics. I’m in my senior year of my DPD program and am in the process of applying for my dietetic internship and so I really appreciate topics like this! Looking forward to more!


53 allen @ Jiu Jitsu Mats November 12, 2013 at 12:21 am

Yummy! My mouth is watering. This dish seems to be delicious. Nutrition is of great value for a sports person. Thank you for sharing and making this post.


54 rené November 15, 2013 at 6:36 am

Thanks a lot I really liked this post and the tips – so helpful.


55 Ana November 15, 2013 at 10:15 am

This is great Kath!
I would love to see more sporst nutrition posts, very informative and helpful!


56 Dr. Tom January 8, 2014 at 11:36 am

We have a lot of patients who are doing the Paleo Diet. This is some great information to answer questions more easily about some of our patients dietary needs. Obviously an endurance athlete is different then some trying to shed a few pounds. Great perspective!


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