For the first couple months of the red line program, after practice I would get dinner with a couple of my teammates, then go home and fall asleep promptly at 6pm. Occasionally I would try to keep myself up to a more reasonable hour (like 8pm), but I’d usually spend the time staring at food blogs in a zombie-like stupor, unable to move from the giant armchair in the corner of my bedroom. I’d sleep for roughly twelve hours, and the next day would progress as normal.

Then, inevitably, sometime mid-afternoon the day after practice, I would become overwhelmingly ravenous. As in, that-pound-tub-of-Trader-Joe’s-peanut-butter-cups-is-totally-a-single-serving-right? level of hungry.

The pattern was unmistakable.

See, a gal can get through a typical workout—a run around the reservoir or an hour of strength-training—without worrying about much besides hydration. Since I’ve never had major fitness goals beyond general improvement of strength and endurance, I’ve never had to get too complicated with my eating habits. I’d make sure I ate within a couple hours before my workout for the day, and then the next time I ate would be whenever I got hungry again.

While that method was enough to get me through an hour of working out, or even the occasional two-hour workout, it clearly wasn’t passing muster for the three-hour skate-stravaganza that was red line practice. I chatted with my coworker, a registered dietician, and then rooted around the internet to figure out what the latest information on exercise nutrition suggested, which I will now present to you, dear readers, so there isn’t a dearth of peanut butter cups because a bunch of new skaters have swarmed Trader Joe’s. (And don’t try to tell me Reese’s are the same.)

Before practice…

The food you eat prior to practice will fuel your workout. A couple things to keep in mind when eating before practice:

  • Give yourself enough time to digest whatever you eat. Seriously. You’ll feel puke-y if you have a bunch of food sitting in your stomach. (And it won’t do a whole lot for your energy levels just sitting there.) A good rule of thumb is to have either a small snack (like a granola bar, banana, bowl of oatmeal, whatever) an hour before hand, or a larger meal two to three hours before.
  • Similarly, make sure it’s easy to digest. Now is not the time to be going for high fiber foods or healthy fats—go for easy to digest carbs (cereal, fruit, bread) with a bit of protein for staying power (eggs, yogurt, that kind of thing).
  • Tasty examples: cereal with milk, toast with a smear of peanut butter, an apple and cheese, a turkey sandwich.

During practice…

  • Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate.
  • Endurance athletes will sometimes weigh themselves before and after a workout to see how much fluid they lost and then replace that amount. So if you lose two pounds, you need to drink 32 ounces of water. Since that can be a bit of a hassle, just make sure you drink enough water that your pee is light-colored or clear.
  • Start taking in carbs and electrolytes after the first hour—ie, sports drinks.  They’re not really necessary before the first hour. For red liners, that means you’ll want something extra for your three-hour Saturday practices, but not for the one-hour weekday practices (agility and endurance).
  • Don’t like plain water? Ice some non-caffeinated herbal tea, or cut up some fruit, cucumber, or mint to infuse your water with flavor.
  • To get a good carb/electrolyte hit, you can go with classic Gatorade, but you can also try coconut water, or even water down some regular juice and add a pinch of salt. If you want to get uber precise, try to get about 14-15 grams of carbohydrates for every eight ounces of liquid, plus about 110 mg of sodium and 30 mg of potassium.
  • Some folks prefer using gels, gus, shot blocks, energy jelly beans—they all work the same way, as an easy-to-digest means of getting sugar and minerals into your blood stream. A more natural alternative is to take some raisins and toss them with a bit of sea salt. (Sounds gross, but it’s actually wicked tasty when you’re in the middle of a tough workout.)

After practice…

  • A fair amount of research suggests getting your post-workout snack in the first 30 minutes after practice. Other research, however, says that it may not be quite as necessary to time your post-workout food so closely if you’re not planning to exercise again in the next 12 hours.
  • Carbohydrates will refill your depleted glycogen (read: fuel) stores in your muscles. Sports nutrition books generally recommend anywhere between 50 and 100 grams of carbs.
  •  Protein will help your body repair your muscles after a long workout.  You don’t need a ton—just 10 to 20 grams. That’s the amount in a couple of hard boiled eggs or pieces of string cheese (or a mouth-watering slab of tofu? Sorry, I realized I’m only offering up non-vegan options here).
  • Post-exercise munchies: Yogurt with granola, cheese and crackers, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, chocolate milk, beans and rice.

In close, I’m going to leave you with a link to a handy infographic from The Greatist, which goes over all the ins and outs of sports nutrition basics with pretty pictures.  And remember: Eat well! Play well!

Diary of a Redliner: Eat well. Play well.