Refined Foods
in Your Sports Nutrition Plan

There is a time and a place for many foods in your sports nutrition plan. Refined foods (also called processed foods) are not a whole foods. Consider these foods carefully in your nutrition plan.

  • Should I avoid all refined foods?

  • It depends on the food and where you are in training. Processed foods usually lack nutrition, but they can be a good source of convenient carbs (sugar) during a session, or a quick way to replace carbs and sodium when whole foods are not available. Many processed foods don’t have the fiber, which may be better before a session or performance.

    Examples of processed foods that my make the grade in sports nutrition: sports drinks, some nutrition bars, carbohydrate supplements (gels, blocks), and salty snacks. You don’t want to depend on these refined foods for everyday use, but they can serve a purpose. Also, you can burn out on the processed foods during prime training season, so save them for when you need them. Really focus on whole foods during our “off season” when meal timing and tolerance is less of a concern.

  • Is there a limit or recommendation for refined food intake?

  • The new pyramid has a “discretionary” calorie group. Think of it this way…if you’ve eaten all your nutrition before you’ve met your calorie goals, you have room for these “extra” calories. These calories can be extra nutrition, or just fun calories to make the nutrition more interesting (like jam on your whole grain toast or honey in your green tea). But be realistic…calories add up. Make sure the calories burned in training are enough to allow for these extra food calories. Loading up on pizza and doughnuts after a 5-K is just an excuse to eat junk. Enjoying what you want to eat after a marathon is a different story!

  • Don’t vitamin nutrition supplements cover me if my diet is mostly refined foods?

  • No. Although supplements fill in the blanks, they do not provide complete coverage. Supplements are limited to what is in the bottle. There are other substances in food, like phytonutrients and fiber, that you need that are not included in many supplements. Also, how is your body going to handle all the preservatives in the processed food? Fill your body with whole food nutrition for optimal sports performance.

  • Where does alcohol fit in?

  • Alcohol is not a whole food. Alcohol drains your body of nutrition rather than enhances nutrition. Alcohol is dehydrating, so it should be avoided prior to and during an event. After the event, be sure to rehydrate with water or sports drinks. The beer may be free after the race, but why soak up all the calories you worked so hard to lose? Balance all calories carefully.

    Ready to set a sports nutrition goal for refined foods? Think about all the processed foods that you could replace with whole foods!

    Return to whole foods in sports nutrition.