USDA and Athlete Recommendations

Wondering what the USDA suggests for athletes?

Let’s see.

First, we head to the parent site and do a search and are greeted with a list of resources, starting with such references as MedlinePlus and Australian Institute of Sport and then…there it is. 

The Gatorade Sports Science Institute.

Founded in 1985, the Gatorade Sports Science Institute (GSSI) is committed to helping athletes optimize their health and performance through research and education in hydration and nutrition science.

GSSI scientists study the effects of nutrition on the human body before, during and after exercise. For more than two decades, hundreds of amateur, elite and professional athletes have participated in testing with GSSI and in studies with university research partners around the world. GSSI’s headquarter lab, mobile and satellite laboratories and on the field testing enable GSSI to do leading research with the aim to provide athletes with advice and products that help their performance and achieve their goals.

I can recall back in my days at USC that the GSSI was referred to quite a bit both from my professors and their teaching assistants.

Clearly regarded as one of the go-to sources of reliable information on subject pertinent to athletes including hydration, fueling and performance.

My question is, how unbiased can the research be if the whole organization is funded by Gatorade?

Something I cannot answer, but it does beg the question.

So, with their affiliation with the USDA, what is the recommendation for athletes?

The guidelines from Colorado State, also posted on the USDA’s site suggest:

“For events that require heavy work for more than 90 minutes, a high-carbohydrate diet eaten for two to three days before the event allows glycogen storage spaces to be filled. Long distance runners, cyclists, cross-country skiers, canoe racers, swimmers and soccer players report benefits from a pre competition diet where 70 percent of the calories comes from carbohydrates.”



I used to subscribe to that idea, in my pre-Paleo days.   And while the high-carb diet I ate wasn’t the reason I was sick all the time (that was thanks to the gluten in the bagels and pasta I thought I needed to fuel and the whey in the protein powder I thought I needed to recover), it was certainly the reason I never looked as lean as I wanted despite training 25 – 30 hours per week for Ironman.

So when I switched to Paleo for health reasons and experienced the nice side effect of reaching the lean body weight I’d been working towards, I also began to train myself to become efficient at using fat as my fuel.

Over time, the body can learn to function quite optimally this way and simultaneously, the risks of many health concerns like diabetes, insulin sensitivity and simply being over-fat drop tremendously.

So now, even the thought of eating a 70% carb diet to prep for an event, and a short event at that, is enough to make me feel  a little sleepy!

My own diet hovers between 40 – 50% fat and it’s proven me well time and time again, both in racing as well as in day to day living.

If you’re mulling it over, check out Pocket Paleo workout (on iTunes or amazon), endorsed by renewed triathlon coach Joe Friel (also a Paleo proponent) and try your hand at letting your body become more reliant, firstly on food rather than refined sports nutrition products, and at the same time learn to be a better fat burner.

Curious to see what my diet actually looks like?

Tune in tomorrow, the day before my next race (the LA Marathon this Sunday) for an outline of a day in the life.