Nutrition experts at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute share tips on balanced and healthy eating

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6/12/2013, 2:38 p.m.
Warm weather is finally here, and it’s time to get outdoors, enjoy the sun and kick-start your workout routine. Whether ...

Warm weather is finally here, and it’s time to get outdoors, enjoy the sun and kick-start your workout routine. Whether training for a marathon, triathalon or a 5K, we are all looking for the best nutrition guidance for peak performance.

Fuel and hydration is critical before, during and after an intense workout to achieve maximum results. Here are some helpful tips for your training season:


  • Eat a high carbohydrate snack with easy-to-digest protein 30 to 60 minutes prior
  • Eat low-fat foods (to allow easy digestion and prevent an upset stomach)
  • Drink enough water to prevent feeling thirsty

Example: Smoothie with fruit (banana, apple, orange and coconut water for electrolytes), ½ cup oatmeal + dried fruit, 1 slice whole grain toast with almond or peanut butter.

During exercise

Hydration is key

  • Drink 3 to 6 ounces of water every 15 to 20 minutes
  • For very intense exercise, drink 6 to 12 ounces every 15 to 20 minutes
  • For intense exercise past 60 minutes, drink electrolyte-rich fluids like coconut water.


Consume a healthy, high-carb, high-protein snack/meal within 30 to 60 minutes for the fastest muscle repair and replenishment of energy stores.

  • Within 30 minutes, eat a snack with a 4:1 ratio of carbohydrate to protein: (e.g., cottage cheese and pineapple, apple and avocado or natural nut-butter, cheese-stick and a handful of grapes).
  • Replace lost water and electrolytes (sodium and potassium) with coconut water or your own homemade sports drink, combining 2 liters of water with frozen berries or 100 percent fresh fruit juice and ½ teaspoon of salt.
  • For more serious training, practice weighing yourself before and after a workout. Drink 16-ounce “gulps” of water for every 1 pound of weight lost.

Sample recovery meals

  • Nitrate-free or roasted turkey sandwich with avocado and tomato
  • Canned wild salmon salad for Omega-3s, with avocado, cucumber, tomato, sunflower seeds
  • Pita wrap with hummus spread, cucumber, avocado, tomato, and olive
  • Peanut/almond/sunflower nut butter on whole-grain wrap with apple/pear slices (try adding granola and a drizzle of honey)
  • Clean bean salad: Mix ½ cup of fresh/frozen corn with ½ cup black beans, 1 chopped tomato and a sprinkle of spicy taco seasoning
  • Raspberry cream smoothie
  • Wheat berry, edamame salad

When to use sports drinks

Sports drinks with electrolytes and carbohydrates are important to replenish what is lost in intense exercise, but should only be used after 60 minutes of high-intensity exercise. Otherwise, they tend to add too many calories and added sugars.


Water is essential for good health and helping you achieve your peak performance. Adequate intake should be 13 cups for men and about 9 cups for women. However, depending on your activity level, perspiration rate, climate, and current health status, you may need more or less.

Don’t like water?

  • Add a dash of 100 percent fruit juice (fresh made is best).
  • Try sparkling water/seltzer.
  • Infuse your water with fresh fruit/herbs (slices of lemon, lime, orange, cucumber, or mint).

Importance of protein

Protein is essential for important functions in our body. But did you know that the average American eats about twice as much protein as is actually required? Excess protein can burden the body, leading to dehydration or kidney strain. You cannot process more than 40 grams of protein at one sitting, and more than this amount will be stored as fat.

Food first

Opt for whole foods over snack bars. If using an energy/snack bar, read your labels to choose a healthy effective choice.

Check for:

  • greater than 7 grams of protein
  • greater than 3 grams of fiber
  • less than 6 to 7 grams of sugar
  • less than 1 gram of saturated fat

Avoid high fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated oil and sugars/syrups/additives.

Dana-Farber has a new free nutrition app to assist you with eating right. The app is available for all Apple iPhone® users with IOS 5 or higher. It can be downloaded by going to the Apple iTunes® store. High resolution images and a video showing how to use the app are available at www.dana-farber.org/nutritionapp. Ask The Nutritionist: Recipes for Fighting Cancer was designed and developed in partnership with iFactory, a Boston-based interactive agency. More information about nutrition and cancer can be found on Dana-Farber’s Nutrition Services web page and Dana-Farber’s blog Insight. For more information on nutrition and cancer prevention visit www.dana-farber.org.

Protein recommendation data compiled from the American College of Sports Medicine, American Dietetic Association, and Dietitians of Canada Joint Position Statement stated in Nancy Clark’s Sports Nutrition Guidebook.