For access to all of our training, gear, and race coverage, plus exclusive training plans, FinisherPix photos, event discounts, and GPS apps, sign up for Outside+.
When it comes to sports nutrition, you’ll be hard pressed to find an expert with as much academic and in-the-field experience as Dr. Stacy Sims. A leading nutritionist and exercise physiologist who has worked with hundreds of professional athletes and age-groupers, Sims is a go-to resource on hydration, nutrition, and sex differences. In 2017, she was named as one of the top four individuals changing the landscape in triathlon nutrition – and today she kicks off her monthly column here at Triathlete.com. Each month Dr. Sims will be answering readers’ questions, which you can submit to us at Triathlete.com/askstacy. In this installment, Sims gives us her favorite wholesome meals, her recommendations for sports and recovery drinks, and the lowdown on teenage athlete nutrition.
1. What are your favorite wholesome meals to feel nourished but not weighed down?
For me, the choice of a wholesome meal depends on the time of day. Everyone is a bit different on what they can tolerate across the day and before/after training, as well as environmental factors (are you living somewhere hot or cold?) and cultural influences (as a transplanted Californian, I still cannot stand Marmite!). If we’re talking about breakfast or post-early morning sessions, I’m a smoothie girl: a mix of frozen cauliflower, zucchini, spinach, mango, protein powder, almond yogurt, and an almond flat white on the side. (Seriously, the cauliflower and zucchini, frozen and blended, have the consistency of frozen banana – but it’s not too sweet). Lunch can be an avocado smash on sprouted grain toast, and a banana with nut butter. For snacks to boost energy, but not overfill pre-training: I’m a huge fan of the light protein pancake (cottage cheese, egg whites, vanilla paste, oat flour) filled with a few berries as a wholesome meal. If I need a bit more, I’ll add some nuts. I tend to look at the nutrient density of food, not the calorie content; for example, what does this food offer in terms of protein, carbohydrate, fiber vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, and functionality? Eat low on the food chain and fuel for what you are doing or what you are recovering from.
2. Which sports and recovery drinks do you recommend for training, especially during summer?
When it comes to commercial drinks, I’m a big fan of nuun Endurance for hydration, which is the newest in their range of low carbohydrate, electrolyte drinks. It is light on flavor, but gives a big punch of sodium and potassium for fluid balance. If you are looking for something to hydrate for an hour, don’t be afraid to mix your own! Around 1/8th tsp table salt with 1 tsp maple syrup in 16-20 ounces of water will give you 250mg sodium, 20g potassium, and 5g carbohydrates. For recovery, rehydration is critical too in summer, so reaching for your protein drink can do more than just facilitate muscle repair, as amino acids help with fluid redistribution. There are so many out there! You want to keep an eye on the amount of high quality protein (minimum 2.5g leucine per serving,), a bit of carbohydrate, NO sugar substitutes (your muscles need real carbohydrate post-exercise, I can hear the anti-sugar comments already…), and try to avoid artificial flavors, flow agents, colors, and other additives. Remember, post-exercise is when your body is craving nutrients to help repair – don’t feed it crap!
3. How different should a teenage athlete’s nutrition be compared to an adult’s?
The biggest difference to point out here is that an adult has finished growing, whereas the adolescent athlete is in a unique situation. They must meet the nutritional requirement associated with undertaking daily training and competition while ensuring they have a diet that caters to the added demands of their growth and development (in particular, bone mineral density, endocrine function, and brain development). Energy needs are unique to each individual and should be set out specifically, but the best way to go about managing the increased demand for calories is to moderate intake in and around structured training. Be careful here, though, as teenagers often underestimate their calorie/fueling needs. Chasing a lower body composition is often a driving factor (for both teenagers and adults), but for teenagers, fueling for training and performance outcomes is more important than monitoring body composition. Hear me out: With puberty, there are waves of changes in muscle, bone, and body fat development, and these change more rapidly in teenagers than adults. One major concern, especially for female athletes, is falling into low energy availability and the loss of periods. This is not normal (despite the perpetual myth that not having your period is a sign of hard training and is OK: it’s not!). If we bring it all back to basics, if we match teenager to adult in terms of training load, sex, muscle mass, and height, the teenager will need ~1000 extra calories compared to the adult. This should be filled with nutrient-dense, real food – not low density, high sugar sports foods.