Take Time for a Good Lunch
Nancy Clark, MS, RD
THE PHYSICIAN AND SPORTSMEDICINE - VOL 25 - NO. 3 - MARCH 97
For people who have the attitude that "food is fattening and I don't have time to eat anyway," lunch is just something to avoid. But for active people, and especially for performance-driven athletes, lunch is an important time to refuel after a busy morning or to fuel up for an afternoon workout. Also, lunchtime may offer an opportunity to rest your mind and recharge for a productive afternoon.
Active people tend to get hungry at least every 3 to 4 hours, so if you eat breakfast at 7:00 or 8:00 am you're generally ready for more fuel by 11:00 am or noon. Skipping or skimping on lunch can easily lead to problems: inadequate calorie replacement; poor quality afternoon exercise bouts; ravenous hunger and cravings for sweets, usually triggering a high intake of "junk food" later in the day; and weight gain due to overcompensating in the evening.
Research suggests that athletes who eat a substantial meal 4 hours before exercising do better than those who have eaten nothing for more than 4 hours. In one study (1), a group of cyclists consumed 1,200 calories in the form of a high-carbohydrate drink 4 hours before a workout. They performed 15% better during a post-workout performance test than those who had eaten nothing since the last night's dinner.
A general guideline is that athletes should consume 2 grams of carbohydrate per pound of body weight approximately 4 hours before competition or rigorous training (2). For a 150-pound athlete, this is 300 grams of carbohydrate, or 1,200 calories. Using pasta as an example, 1,200 calories would be about 6 cups cooked, or about I of a pound dry—quite a pile of pasta!
Of course, endurance athletes who train for competition need lots of calories, but even the average active person needs more than a mere apple or bagel for lunch. So how can you fit a healthful and enjoyable lunch into your busy day? Following are some tips that will help.
Overcome Your Excuses
"I don't have time to eat." Correction: You choose to do other things such as work, study, or exercise instead of eat. Make lunch more of a priority, and you can generally find a few minutes to eat. Even if you can't stop for a relaxing lunch break, you can perhaps snack on part of a sandwich between classes or customers. You could drink liquid lunches of juice or milk, or even meal supplements such as instant breakfast drinks, GatorPro, or Ensure.
"I'm on a diet." Skipping lunch is a common mistake among weight-conscious people who believe eating lunch adds needless calories to their diet. I counsel many athletes who habitually restrict their intake at breakfast and lunch, struggle through workouts, "blow their diet" in the late afternoon, overeat at night, and then start the vicious cycle over again the next day. They commonly have little success with weight loss—and little energy to enjoy exercising. They'd be better off eating a substantial breakfast and lunch and restricting calories at night.
"I don't like the cafeteria's lunches, but I'm too rushed to make lunch in the morning." If the food available to you at lunch is unappetizing, try these options:
Count the Benefits
Lunch is an important part of your exercise program. Keep in mind that your midday meal refuels muscles after a morning workout or prepares them for afternoon exercise. If you struggle with eating an adequate lunch, examine your excuses and experiment with different solutions. Notice the benefits that accompany proper lunchtime nutrition: reduced hunger, more energy, better workouts, fewer food cravings and obsessions, and more energy to choose and prepare a proper dinner. You won't go wrong if you strive to eat about a third of your day's calorie intake at lunch.
Remember: You, your physician, and your nutritionist need to work together to discuss nutrition concerns. The above information is not intended as a substitute for appropriate medical treatment.
Ms Clark is director of Nutrition Services at SportsMedicine Brookline in the Boston area. She is a fellow of the American College of Sports Medicine, a fellow of the American Dietetic Association, and a member of its practice group, Sports and Cardiovascular Nutritionists (SCAN).
Copyright (C) 1997. The McGraw-Hill Companies. All Rights Reserved