Sprinters Diet – Important Considerations

Top-flight sprinters pay a great deal of attention to the following considerations:

  • Their ability to sustain energy levels whilst training
  • Maintaining an optimal power to mass ratio by boosting strength and muscle mass without putting on excess body fat
  • How to optimize their training through nutrition
  • Their ability to recover quickly after training
  • Ensuring they remain focused and concentrated during competition
  • Developing good reaction times.

A Good Diet For Sprinters Must Factor In Muscle Type

Diet for SprintersThere are 2 types of muscle fibers – slow-twitch and fast-twitch.  Slow-twitch muscles have a high blood supply and plenty of mitochondria (energy providing structures in cells that convert food into an energy source the cells can utilize) and myoglobin (oxygen and iron binding muscle protein that provides cells with oxygen).  Therefore they are very fatigue resistant.  Slow-twitch muscles are important for endurance athletes for example.

Fast-twitch muscles on the other hand are a much faster growing muscle with the ability to contract rapidly.  This gives them more power and strength than slow-twitch muscles.  However, fast-twitch muscles don’t have the endurance capacity of slow-twitch muscles and tire rapidly.

A Good Sprinters Diet Provides Plenty Of Energy

The short bursts of speed that sprinters rely on use fast-twitch muscles.  The fibers in fast-twitch muscles predominately use carbohydrates as a fuel source.  Because they do tire rapidly, a good sprinters diet therefore needs to be nutrient dense and contain enough carbohydrates and fat to maintain energy levels as well as supply fast-twitch muscles with sufficient fuel to produce the required speed bursts.  Without adding excess body fat.  The diet must also contain enough protein to meet training demands that invariably includes a lot of strength and muscle building work.

Diet For Sprinters Must Include Fats And Carbs

It’s been calculated that a good quality diet for sprinters is one in which carbohydrates supply around 60% of the calories.  The diet however should also maintain a fat intake of at least 15% of total calorie volume.

Some of the best sources of carbohydrates are:

  • Fruit
  • Vegetables – particularly starchy ones ie potatoes
  • Beans
  • Legumes
  • Cereal
  • Bread
  • Whole grains
  • Pasta
  • Quinoa – good cereal and rice substitute
  • Rice
  • Sweetened dairy – fruit flavored yogurt, smoothies, milk shakes etc

Healthy fats can be obtained from a range of foods such as:

  • Vegetable oils
  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Lean meat
  • Cold-water fish.

Protein – Vital Part Of An Overall Plan For A Sprinters Diet

Protein is an important component of a sprinters diet.  It needs to contain higher than normal levels of protein than those usually required by most adults.  Protein is vital because it supplies the amino acids needed to help repair muscle fibers after workouts or competition.  Protein can also be used as a source of energy when the body runs out of fats and carbohydrates.

Whilst the recommended daily protein allowance for adults in general is 0.8gms per kilo of body weight, sprinters often require around twice that amount.   The “Journal of Applied Physiology” in fact recommends sprinters include around 1.8gms of protein per kilo of body weight in their diet.  The best sources of protein are found in complete sources such as:

  • Lean meat
  • Poultry – preferably skin-free
  • Fish
  • Low-fat dairy
  • Eggs
  • Soybeans
  • Lentils
  • Tofu

Timing Food Intake An Important Aspect Of A Diet For Sprinters

The body converts carbohydrates into glucose and then stockpiles it as glycogen in muscle cells and in the liver to be used during exercise.  A sprinter, with their high intense demand for muscle fuel, whilst not completely depleting the glycogen stored in their muscles, still uses up a fair amount of it.  Therefore, timing food intake appropriately during the day so as to maximize restocking of glycogen stores in the muscles, particularly whilst training, is imperative.  Particularly if a sprinter wants to train and perform at their best.

For that reason experts recommend sprinters make a point of planning their eating habits and their sprinters diet in a way that achieves this with maximum effectiveness.  Including suitable snacks before and after training and competition will help sprinters perform at their best and also help with recovery afterwards.  For example, aiming to consume between 50 and 60gms of carbohydrates and a minimum of around 30gms of protein within 2 hours of training or competing significantly aids recovery.

Planning A Sprinters Diet To Include Last Minute Nutrition

Nutritionists like Dr. John Berardi also recommend sprinters stay away from high-fat foods and high fiber foods ie grains and vegetables, and avoid eating large meals close to training or competition so as to avoid gastro-intestinal discomfort and fullness.  Quality snack foods like fresh fruit, yogurt, low-fat flavored milk and milkshakes, sports and cereal bars, breakfast cereals, liquid meal replacements and the like are all appropriate items to include in a sprinters diet on intensive training and competition days.  It also pays to stay away from foods that may cause sluggishness or dehydration.

Foods To Limit In A Diet For Sprinters

As with any good diet, but of particular importance when working out a good diet for sprinters, it’s best to steer clear of energy-dense, sugar rich foods.  High on the list of “to be consumed only sparingly” are items like:

  • cakes,
  • pastries,
  • lollies / candies,
  • soft drinks,
  • chocolate,
  • alcohol,
  • takeaways

A Balanced Diet For Sprinters

Studies have shown that quality carbohydrates and proteins combined as part of an overall balanced diet for sprinters appear to be the best plan of action for encouraging optimum muscle development.  There is also some evidence to suggest that when resistance training is undertaken whilst muscle glycogen levels are low there may be a corresponding reduction in the benefits of the training with respect to muscle development.  This is regardless of protein intake.

Therefore, although the assumption has long been that a diet high in protein is the key to effective muscle development, research is now indicating that energy balance is equally as important, if not more so, than just protein alone.

Also of particular significance for muscle repair after intense workouts and competition are the findings that more efficient utilization of the amino acids in protein occurs when there is sufficient carbohydrate intake.  So a sprinter should ideally be aiming to include sufficient quantities of both carbohydrates and proteins in their diet in order to achieve maximum muscle strength and power.

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