Exercise Nutrition & Athlete Nutrition

Healthy Eating And Good Principles For Effective Exercise Nutrition

Healthy eating should be a priority for all of us.  From the recreational exerciser to the professional athlete, nutrition and ensuring a good balanced diet made up of quality carbohydrates, proteins, fats, fluids and vitamins / minerals is vital for good health and optimum physical performance.

For the recreational exerciser, most nutritional requirements will be met simply by ensuring you eat a well-rounded diet daily that includes a variety of foods from each of the essential food groups.  Foods differ in their nutritional content, which is why it’s important to vary what you eat in order to get maximum benefits from your diet without having to resort to expensive supplements.

For an athlete nutrition requires a much more planned approach to factor in exercise regimes and competition.  These activities demand a lot more of the body than does low level or even moderate recreational exercise.  For intensive or heavy exercise nutrition is in fact a major player in performance outcome.

Inadequate nutrition can:

  • Lead to inadequate performance both during exercise and in competition.
  • Reduce your body’s ability to repair itself after exercise and competition
  • Expose your body and muscles to a higher risk of injury and illness

Healthy Diet For Exercise Nutrition Wise

So what constitutes a healthy diet for exercise nutrition wise?

Exercise Nutrition & Athlete Nutrition -Optimum Nutrition Opti-Men - 90 TabsA good healthy diet, particularly when it comes to athlete nutrition considerations, includes eating foods from each of the major food groups on a daily basis.  How much of each of these groups you need to eat depends on how much exercise you’re doing and the level of intensity at which you’re doing it.   A leisurely 5mile jog for example may not require much more than additional hydration but a 5mile sprint for an athlete in training is a whole different ball game.

Hydration is an often-underestimated component of exercise nutrition regimes and one of the most important when it comes to influencing performance.  Allowing yourself to become even slightly dehydrated will quickly have an adverse effect on everything else you’ve taken such great care to get right in your training.  As a general rule of thumb, by the time you start to feel thirsty you’re already dehydrated so always carry a drink with you.

Carbohydrates From Starchy Foods Essential For Athlete Nutrition

Starchy foods like pasta, rice, potatoes, sweet corn, cereal, bread, beans and so on are an important source of carbohydrates, the main source of fuel for muscles during exercise.  Most exercise nutrition experts recommend that around one third of your diet should be made up of starchy foods.  These types of foods take longer to digest so they are a good source of slow release energy.  If you choose wholegrain versions you will get the added benefits of additional fiber as well as vitamins and minerals that are essential for good health.  Starchy foods for instance are a particularly good source of B group vitamins and minerals like calcium, iron and folate.

Other good sources of carbohydrates are fruit and dairy products, which provide the body with complete sugars for a quicker energy source.  These types of carbs are especially recommended for competition day refueling.   Liquid dairy products in particular, like low-fat chocolate milk, have been shown to be particularly effective as post-competition pick-me-ups.  More effective in many cases than sports drinks!

Protein – Just As Important As Carbs For Athlete Nutrition

It’s a common misapprehension that eating lots of protein will stack on muscle bulk.  However, research has shown that consuming protein at the expense of carbohydrates in the expectation of building muscle is neither a smart nor an effective training program.  This is because protein works BEST in tandem with carbohydrates.  Meaning that in order to get the most benefit out of the protein you eat, you must also eat enough carbs.  The amino acids in protein, essential for maintaining and repairing muscle tissue, can’t do it all on their own but when some carbs come along to lend a hand, that’s when the action really starts happening!

Primary sources of quality protein, those containing all essential amino acids, include animal proteins such as lean red and white meat, fish, dairy (milk, cheese, yogurt etc) and eggs.  Good vegetable protein sources are tofu, quinoa, lentils and soy.

The daily protein need of most healthy adults is around 0.75 to 0.8grams for every kilo of body weight.  Endurance and strength athletes may require twice as much, depending on exercise and competition.

Not All Fats Are Bad For Athlete Nutrition….

Good fats ie unsaturated fats are a crucial part of a good athlete nutrition diet plan because they contain essential fatty acids such as omega 3.  Unsaturated fats are predominantly found in vegetables oils, nuts, seeds, avocados and oily fish (a particularly good source of long chain omega 3 fatty acids which are essential for a healthy heart).

Fat is also a particularly good energy source but consuming excess in relation to requirements only leads to weight gain.  A good diet restricts fat intake to around one third of total food intake, or less if you’re not active.

But Some Definitely Are!

Saturated fats should never exceed more than 10 to 11% in a healthy diet.

That means restricting the amount of cakes, pastries, biscuits, high fat dairy, processed meats and fried food you consume.  If you must eat these, try and choose low fat versions instead.  Most dairy products for example are available in low or reduced fat versions.  If you’re a cheese addict, try grating cheese – this reduces the amount you need to use.  And if eating fried foods, try to ensure they’ve been fried in healthier, unsaturated oils or better still try steaming, poaching, grilling or baking them instead.  Get rid of excess fat from meat and stick to lean cuts and lean meats like skinless poultry.  Make your own salad dressings – that way you know exactly what’s in them!

Pre And Post Exercise Nutrition

However, for an athlete it’s not enough to simply eat these foods.  Timing intake is also an important part of good athlete nutrition principles.  Packing all your carbohydrates into one or two meals for example is not a good idea.  Ditto for your proteins and your fats.  An effective exercise nutrition plan includes simple things like timing your carbohydrate and protein intakes to maximize your pre and post exercise and competition energy and refueling requirements.  This will help to ensure you gain the most benefit out of your diet when it comes to performance.

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