Athletes who want a winning edge need the right nutrition. When you give your body the right fuel by drinking enough water and eating a balanced diet, you will make the most of your athletic talents and gain more strength, power, and endurance when you train.
Sports nutrition focuses on good eating habits all the time, but also may focus on carbohydrates. For example, athletes training for endurance events may eat more carbohydrates in their diets in the days before the event to boost their energy and performance. Protein for muscle repair and growth is another important aspect of sports nutrition.
Eating Before Exercise
Carbohydrates are essential for peak athletic performance, as the body uses this nutrient more efficiently than fat or protein. The timing of carbohydrate intake is also important. Athletes should consume 1.0 to 4.0 g/kg of body weight one to four hours prior to exercise, focusing on longer-lasting sources of carbohydrate combined with a source of protein (peanut butter on whole grain bread). Recommendations for carbohydrate intake are higher for endurance training and competition (7.0 to 10.0 g/kg/day) and high-intensity athletics (5.0 to 8.0 g/kg/day). Eating a meal 3-4 hours before a game or exercise will help to maximize energy and performance.
The recommendation for daily dietary protein intake is .8 to 1.0 g/kg/day. The amount of protein depends not only on the level of physical activity, but also on the athlete’s rates of growth or healing. For example, athletes who are in a critical growth period at or around puberty may need more protein. Before taking protein supplements, consult with your physician to determine if a supplement is needed. Fish, chicken, eggs, nuts, spinach and lentils (beans) provide good sources of protein.
Dietary fat serves several functions. It is an additional source of energy, provides essential fatty acids that the body cannot synthesize on its own, and assists in the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins. Athletes should follow the same consumption guidelines as those recommended for the general public: 20 to 35 percent of total calories should come from fat, with less than 10 percent from saturated fat.
Eating During Exercise
The focus for eating during exercise is on carbohydrates, especially sources of glucose and electrolytes. If exercise lasts longer than an hour, it is necessary to consume an additional 30 to 60 grams of carbohydrates during the activity. Granola bars, nuts, and fruit snacks are a good source of energy during exercise.
Eating For Recovery
The focus during recovery is on carbohydrates, especially within 15 to 30 minutes after the activity. During this time, athletes should consume 1.0 to 1.5 g/kg of a rapid-acting carbohydrate or a ratio of 4 grams of carbohydrates to 1 gram of protein. Low- fat chocolate milk is the best form of recovery drink. Gatorade is another option. After 30 minutes, the focus should be on a mixed meal with adequate carbohydrates, protein, and fat.
Athletes must drink fluids to stay adequately hydrated, as even a loss of 1 percent body weight can reduce athletic performance. Water is a sufficient fluid for hydration. Athletes should consume at least 16 ounces of fluid two hours prior to exercise, and 5 to 10 ounces during exercise, taken every 15 to 20 minutes. Sports drinks are appropriate for athletes involved in endurance activities (marathon, triathlon) or stop-and-go sports (soccer, basketball, football, hockey) to replace lost fluids, carbohydrates, and electrolytes. The most effective sports drinks consist of 6 percent to 8 percent carbohydrates (14 to 19 grams carbohydrates per 8 ounce serving).
Of course, sports nutrition goes beyond simply what you eat. When you eat is important, too. To maximize your workouts, coordinate your meals, snacks and drinks. Drink fluids such as water during and between meals. Consult your physician or athletic trainer with questions about your nutrition and athletic performance.