Performance Sports Nutrition – Performing At Your Peak
Any sports and nutrition expert will tell you that correct nutrition is important for everyone, regardless of if you’re someone who just exercises for pleasure or a professional athlete. Getting your diet right to suit the demands you make of your body will ensure your energy levels are optimized and that you recover more efficiently.
Life, Sports And Nutrition – Energy Sources
Energy is something we all require to keep our bodies functioning. Someone who is physically active obviously requires more energy than someone who isn’t and someone who trains hard will require more energy than someone who only trains lightly. Energy is measured in kilojoules or calories depending on where you are, and we get most of our kilojoules/calories from 3 main nutrient groups.
Carbohydrates – An Essential Fuel In Performance Sports Nutrition
Our bodies store carbohydrates in muscle and liver tissues as glycogen. When we need it, the glycogen is converted to glucose, the fuel our muscles run on. A correctly trained athlete can usually store enough glycogen to fuel an hour to an hour and a half’s worth of intense exercise.
Correctly trained? A fundamental rule of performance sports nutrition is that once you’ve finished exercising or competing, you must replace your glycogen stores, ready for the next bout of exercise. If you don’t do this you won’t get the full benefits of all the exercise you’ve just put in nor will you be training your body to maximize muscle glycogen storage.
One of the best ways to refuel, both during and after exercise, is with liquid fuels that contain adequate amounts of both carbohydrates and protein. The amino acids in protein will begin to repair muscle damage and the carbohydrates serve a dual function. They will start replenishing glycogen stores and they will greatly assist the amino acids in their repair work. Also ensure that what you’re consuming are complete carbohydrates and not simple sugars like dextrose, fructose, glucose and sucrose (which are not only unsatisfactory as fuel sources but also lead to health problems). Good sources of complete carbohydrates are whole grain breads, cereals, dairy products, rice, pasta, vegetables, fruits and legumes.
Sports And Nutrition Experts Say Liquid Fuels Work Best
And why liquid? The nutrients in liquids are absorbed far quicker than those in solid foods, which require your body to expend a lot more water, electrolytes and time to digest them. During exercise, blood is also diverted from the digestive processes to help keep muscle cells fueled. So it makes sense that by reducing the workload on the digestive system during exercise you’ll be helping it cope with the reduced blood supply. You’ll also avoid the bloat and intestinal discomfort that can go with consuming solid foods prior to exercise.
Protein – Building Blocks Of Good Performance Sports Nutrition
Everyone who knows anything about sports and nutrition knows that protein is essential for helping to build and repair muscles. Protein is also a source of fuel for muscle cells when glycogen supplies start to run low. However, what we were not generally aware of until recent times is that protein does its job a lot more efficiently if the diet includes adequate carbohydrates. That’s why performance sports nutrition experts recommend refueling after exercise and competition with something like chocolate milk, surprisingly enough, that contains sufficient quantities of both protein and carbs.
Other good sources of quality protein to include in a well-rounded diet are lean red and white meats (beef, lamb, poultry, fish), eggs, nuts, seeds and dairy. The quantity of protein required will depend on what type of exercise and sports you’re doing. Strength and endurance athletes for example require more protein, which can generally be obtained through increasing the amount of dietary protein.
Fat – Often Undervalued In Performance Sports Nutrition
Fat is the primary source of fuel for endurance and other lengthy types of exercise and competition. Therefore endurance athletes will need more fat in their diet than say, sprint athletes. However, fat is still important for all types of exercise as it helps access glycogen stores. The trick is to ensure that what you’re eating are healthy fats as opposed to unhealthy fats. Healthy fats include oily fish, nuts, seeds, some types of fruits like avocados and low-fat dairy. Chips, deep fried foods, cakes, biscuits and the like are good sources of unhealthy fats so steer clear of them. For optimum performance sports nutrition avoid eating a lot of fat just prior to or during heavy exercise as fat takes a while to digest.
Other Important Aspects Of Good Sports And Nutrition
Hydration – Keep The Fluid Intake Up
A good sports and nutrition plan also includes other important considerations such as adequate hydration – this is in fact a very important priority for anyone who is involved in playing sports or doing athletics. Dehydration, even to a small degree, can have a negative impact on performance. As the song says, ‘drink, drink, drink’ before, during and after exercise and competition. Don’t wait until you feel thirsty; thirst is your body telling you it’s already dehydrated. And don’t forget the electrolytes if you’re involved in high intensity or endurance sports.
Micro-Nutrients – They’re Important Too In Sports and Nutrition Planning
Micro-Nutrients often get overlooked but athletes and any active sportsperson requires adequate levels included in their diet.
Iron is the component in blood responsible for carrying oxygen around the body and helping with the release of cellular energy. Hard exercise and competition causes an increase in red blood cells, which in turn requires iron. We also lose iron in sweat and through bleeding. Iron deficiency though is unfortunately common among athletes, particularly women, and leads to fatigue and low energy levels. A diet high in iron-rich foods like red and white meat, fish and other sea foods as well as leafy green vegetables and iron-boosted cereals, coupled with sufficient vitamin C intake, will help prevent iron deficiency in most cases.
Adequate calcium intake helps to reduce the risk of bone fractures and also early onset osteoporosis and the development of osteoporosis later in life. The best sources of calcium are found in dairy products – milk, cheese, yogurt etc. Milk based drinks are becoming a popular post-exercise option for refueling as they contain significant amounts of carbohydrate, protein, fat and other essential nutrients.
Optimum Performance Sports Nutrition – Timing Nutrition Intake
Timing your eating, especially with respect to competition, is also vital. Most sports and nutrition experts will tell you that you should eat your last big meal a minimum of 3 hours before your competition. The aim of this meal is to top up the glycogen stores in your liver. Note that if you’ve been training correctly and providing your body with adequate refueling after each training session you will already have an hour to an hour and a half’s worth of glycogen stored in your muscles.
This process, building up and optimizing muscle glycogen storage, is long-term. It requires weeks of regular training and equally as regular fuel restocking after each training session. Eating a large meal within 4 or 5 hours of competition therefore will not add anything to your muscle glycogen supply. Eating solid food within 3 hours will actually cause your body to burn up its muscle glycogen stores faster than normal.
So play it safe. If you can’t eat a meal more than 3 hours prior to competition then make sure you eat a good (but not huge) meal with sufficient carbohydrates the night before to get your liver glycogen stores topped up. Then on competition day limit yourself to something that is easily digestible, with around 100 to 200 calories, five to ten minutes before your competition starts.
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