A Nutritionist’s Take On Diets For Athletes

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From carbo loading to recovery balance to proper diet, Sarah Koszyk dispenses advice to help runners fuel themselves properly.

By Henry Howard

It’s no wonder that Sarah Koszyk has always had a passion for food. After all, she was raised by two food scientists in Hawaii.

Her youth was spent swimming or body boarding in the ocean, running in the mountains, hiking in the jungle and enjoying well-balanced meals featuring fresh produce.

She was surrounded by real fresh food daily, having an avocado tree, kumquat tree, papaya tree, mango tree and banana plant all in her backyard. And, of course, the ocean provided fresh seafood.

‘A future career in nutrition and fitness’

Chopping (1)Her upbringing was not only healthier than most Americans, it helped shape her career path too.

“Dinner conversations focused on what the food had to offer our bodies and my parents would get geeky about the science behind the food,” Koszyk says. “So I was in a good space to encourage a future career in nutrition and fitness. As time went on, I completed my graduate studies and became a registered dietitian with a specialty in sports nutrition and weight management.”

Now, Koszyk is a registered dietitian and nutrition coach. She has been featured in Runner’s World, Ultra Running magazine and other resources for athletes and non-athletes.


I had an email conversation with Koszyk about nutrition and diet for endurance athletes. Here are the excerpts:

Focusing on the science

Question: There are lots of diets and recommendations out there. How do you decipher all the research to come up with your own suggestions for healthy eating, endurance fueling, etc.?

I stick to the science and evidence-based research to determine what is the best way to “eat healthy” and how to fuel. Generally speaking, by following a diet that consists of food from the ground up (real foods, whole foods), you will have a healthy source of nutrients. Also, by choosing a variety of foods and a variety of colors from your fruits and vegetables, you can optimize your nutrient intake.

Q: Have your recommendations changed throughout the years as more research has been done? If so, what is an area that you have adjusted your approach to and why?

Yes, I remember when “butter was bad” and “margarine was good.” As time and research continues, I now focus on choosing real food products as often as possible and cutting down on the processed goods.

Q: Let’s move on to a hot topic among endurance athletes: carbs. What’s your view – should runners and other athletes carbo load? Why or why not?

Research suggests that a person should not carb load since your body only has so many storage units to house the glycogen from the carbohydrates. Instead, people should eat consistent carbs daily in order to maintain their glycogen levels. If working out, consume some carbs post-workout to top off any lost glycogen stores and to optimize your recovery.

Q: For those of us who love carbs, what carb foods do you recommend and which ones should we avoid or at least limit?

Some carb foods that can give you the most bang for your buck in regards to additional nutrients and benefits are sweet potatoes. Not only do they provide you with carbs, they also provide you with antioxidants from the beta-carotene and potassium which is a needed electrolyte for runners. Another fantastic carb is quinoa because it also has fiber and protein. I recommend eating quinoa post-run for a meal and not before a run because the fiber may cause one to feel full. There are no carbs to completely avoid unless you are allergic to it. I don’t demonize any specific food.

Q: Let’s look at some specific parts of training cycles. What is the optimum breakdown for a runner to have between carbs, proteins, fats, etc. while he/she is training for a big event? 

There are a few equations for how many grams of proteins, carbs and fats one should have before, during or after an extended run lasting longer than 90 minutes. These recommendations are based on one’s body weight. For runners, consume about 0.5-1 gram of carb per pound of body weight before a run and about 6-15 grams of protein. Post-run, within 15 minutes of the extended workout, consume about 0.6 grams of carbs per pound of body weight and about 15-25 grams of protein for optimal recovery. Fat is important and should be consumed in moderation on a daily basis. However, in regards to sports nutrition, a specific recommendation of fat will not enhance your performance or recovery.

Q: What about during the taper period?

When tapering, how much you consume depends on how much you exercised. Generally speaking, always make sure to have a meal or snack containing both carbs and protein within 15-30 minutes after an intense workout to replenish used glycogen and repair muscles.

And during the race, what should a runner be consuming to fuel properly?

The carb sources will vary depending on what you can tolerate and what works well with your own gut. There’s no right way to fuel during an event when it comes to food/drink choices. There are so many options that work for different people. The wrong way is not fueling at all. Generally speaking, during a race, consume up to 0.3 grams of carbs per pound of body weight every hour to ensure optimal performance.

Q: What are three foods — or ingredients — that most people are not including enough of in their diets that you would recommend?

Fruits, vegetables and fiber. Most people don’t eat the colors of the rainbow on a daily or a weekly basis. Have you had a red fruit or veggie? A blue/purple one? Yellow? Green? Orange? White? The different colors offer different benefits, vitamins and nutrients. The more colors you have, the better off you’ll be when it comes to enhancing your nutritional status. Luckily, fruits and veggies contain fiber, too, which helps us feel full and move our bowels.

Speed drill

Headshot_Cropped_Social_Media (1)Name: Sarah Koszyk, MA, RDN
Hometown: San Francisco. I’ve been here since 1997 and it’s definitely a home to me. 

Number of years running: Five. I just started not too long ago. 
How many miles a week do you typically run? 25-30 miles.

Favorite pre-race or training food/drink: Chocolate Cherry Maca Smoothie – (pre-race). 1 cup of almond milk + 1 Tbsp maca (for increased energy) + 1 cup frozen tart cherries (they provide carbs and help with recovery from the anti-inflammatory properties) + 1 Tbsp cacao powder (for chocolate flavor and anti-inflammatory assistance) + 1 scoop of protein powder (this varies).

Favorite or inspirational song to run to: Lately, I’ve been on a David Guetta kick and have been listening to his album with Titanium on it. I tend to enjoy dance music. 

Favorite or inspirational mantra or saying: When you believe in yourself, anything is possible. Keep on going because one day, you will get there. 

Where can other runners connect or follow you:

One Response to A Nutritionist’s Take On Diets For Athletes

  1. Kyle @ SKORA March 21, 2016 at 9:48 am #

    It’s interesting that Sarah mentioned to not carb load since the body has limited storage capabilities, however as far as I’ve seen research has shown that the body can super-saturate with glycogen for a period. That being said, I don’t carb load much, but I do follow the Western Australian CHO Loading protocol: http://skorarunning.com/blog/the-week-before-a-big-race

    Perhaps she did not mean to not carb load in general, and this advice was not meant to be for pre-race?

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