Whether you are an elite athlete in training, an everyday exerciser or a weekend warrior, all physically active people need to eat a balanced, nutritious diet in order to sustain energy and support health and wellness. To gain a winning edge, athletes need a diet that will support increased energy expenditure, decrease recovery time and reduce the risk of injury. Getting the right nutrients helps to maintain desirable weight, helps you to reach your peak physical conditioning level and allows for the most advantageous nerve-muscle response. Optimal nutrition is very essential for maximizing performance.
The nutrients–carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins, minerals and very importantly, water– are required in the correct balance for the athlete as well as the less active person.
- Carbohydrates are an athlete’s most efficient fuel source. During digestion, carbohydrates are broken down into glucose, which is stored in the muscles as glycogen. During exercise, glycogen is converted back to glucose and is used for energy. Glycogen provides endurance and the power for high-intensity, short duration activities. Eating a carbohydrate heavy diet for a few days before a competition or a meet will allow for the maximum amount of glycogen-loaded muscles. Consuming carbohydrates during exercise that lasts longer than an hour will replenish energy and delay fatigue. If and when glycogen stores are depleted, the body will burn fat and protein for fuel.
- Physically active people require more protein than those who don’t exercise. Protein’s primary role is building muscles. Endurance athletes, body builders and those who perform intense, strength-building activities often burn protein for fuel.
- Fats also provide body fuel. The burning of fats by the body depends upon the intensity and duration of the exercise and the condition of the athlete. Fat provides the primary fuel source for low to moderate intensity activities. As intensity increases, the body will use its glycogen supply.
- Water is a critical nutrient for athletes. Dehydration causes muscle cramps and fatigue. Cool water helps to cool the core body temperature, aiding in fluid loss through perspiration. To stay hydrated, drink small amounts of water frequently, before, during and after exercise or training. For workouts lasting an hour or less, water in sufficient amounts is best. For longer events, sports drinks diluted with 50% water may be the better fluid for rehydrating.
- B vitamins, thiamine, riboflavin, and niacin, are needed to produce energy from fuel sources in the diet. Active individuals who restrict their energy intake or have nutrient poor diets are at the greatest risk for B vitamin depletion. Vitamin D, necessary for calcium absorption, promotes bone health, immune and muscle function, and helps to reduce exercise-related inflammation.
- Minerals also play an important role in performance. Heavy exercise can affect the body’s supply of sodium, potassium, iron and calcium. Sodium and potassium are lost through perspiration and should be replenished after strenuous exercise. Calcium-rich foods support bone health and help to maximize recovery after strenuous exercise. Young athletes, females and vegetarians who are competing in endurance sports are at risk for iron depletion and should regularly consume iron-containing foods.
After a workout, practice or competition, restore fluids and electrolytes, eat carbohydrates to replace muscle fuel and protein to repair damaged muscle tissue and stimulate muscle growth. Be sure to begin every exercise session well hydrated. All individuals should aim for 30 to 60 minutes of moderate exercise daily. This level of activity helps to maintain a healthy weight, builds healthy bone density, supports a positive mental outlook, and decreases the risk of developing chronic diseases.
Supplements that support physical training and performance include:Athletic Nutrients by Pure Encapsulations combines activated vitamins, superior mineral cofactors, antioxidants and pH balanced creatine to promote energy and endurance and lessen muscle fatigue. Klean Isolate (KA57534P) by Klean Athlete provides pure whey protein isolate with no artificial sweeteners or flavorings. Klean Isolate provides 20 grams of protein per serving along with calcium, sodium and potassium. NSF Certified for Sport. Energy/Sports Formula (4543) by Douglas Laboratories provides comprehensive, synergistic vitamins, minerals, enzymes, herbals and other nutrients carefully formulated and designed to support energy metabolism during sport and exercise. Endura Orange Flavor by Metagenics provides a unique blend of electrolytes in a patented rehydration formula. Endure provides 29 grams of carbohydrates plus vitamins, minerals, electrolytes and amino acids.