No shortcuts in exercise

In exercise, don't fall for myths to enhance your performance

Even when you're working hardest to improve your diet and athletic performance, change doesn't come quickly or easily. So it can be tempting to fall for pills and potions that promise fast results with little effort.

Don't do it.

Marketers have been pushing so-called performance enhancers, also known as ergogenic aids, for decades. If they really worked, you might think a lot of us would have very different bodies by now.

Here's the deal: Nutrition and hydration do matter. Some vitamins and supplements appear to be helpful. But that doesn't mean mega doses are more helpful.

The truth is that eating a balanced diet plus exercising regularly will help you manage weight and increase performance. But there are no shortcuts. In fact, overdoing performance or weight-loss "aids" can actually sabotage your progress. Here are a few myths and facts about fueling on the move:

Myth: Lots of caffeine will make you perform better in a workout

Fact: Caffeine is a central-nervous-system stimulant and, to a point, can help your speed and power. But a couple of cups of coffee an hour before your activity will give you plenty.

Taking caffeine supplements, especially in combination with other stimulants, will harm your performance and could raise your heart rate dangerously.

Myth: Drinking water before and during exercise causes nausea

Fact: Again, it's all about balance. Too much water washes out necessary sodium and potassium, which creates a condition called hyponatremia, leading to nausea and vomiting. What's more common is taking in too little water during exercise, causing dehydration, cramping and severely limited performance. How much is just right? Every 10 to 20 minutes of exercise, you should drink four to eight ounces of water, depending on your size. So a 16-ounce bottle will last some people just 20 minutes.

If you're sweating for an hour or more, a sports drink such as Gatorade mixed with water can refuel electrolytes and prevent muscle cramps. But you don't need salt tablets; they'll just make you dehydrated.

Myth: Carbohydrates cause weight gain, and high protein helps with weight loss

Fact: No matter what you eat, eating more than you can burn leads to weight gain. During exercise, carbohydrates supply your muscles with glycogen, which the body uses as its main source of fuel, giving the energy needed to go for long periods. High-protein diets can subtract water from your tissues, and if grains, cereals, fruits and vegetables are sharply limited, you'll lack the fuel you need for exercise.

Myth: Taking vitamin and mineral supplements will increase performance

Fact: The role of vitamins is to release the energy from the food one eats, but there isn't enough evidence yet to say mega doses provide an athletic advantage. For now, your well-balanced diet, with perhaps a regular multivitamin for insurance, is all you need unless your doctor determines otherwise. For instance, if a woman is given a ferron test and is found to be iron-deficient, reversing that situation can improve her athletic performance.

Myth: Eat carbs before a workout; protein after

Fact: You do want to emphasize those nutrients at those times, but in balance.

Before an event or long workout, have a snack or meal that is about 70 percent carbohydrates, 15 percent protein and 15 percent fat. For example: half a bagel with a small amount of peanut butter.

During long events or workouts, to your regular water intake add carbs in the form of sports gels or small pieces of an energy bar. After an hour or so, mix Gatorade with water, especially if it is over 70 degrees and humid.

Within about 15 minutes after the event, refuel with a drink or snack that's about four parts protein to one part carbs. Try yogurt or a protein shake with fruit. And keep hydrating. A long event is like a deep-tissue massage, in that both stir up waste products you'll want to flush out.

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