Without proper fuel and nourishment for your body, you will not attain your full athletic potential and will be more susceptible to fatigue and injury.
Proper nutrition for athletes is one of the most important training factors and should be included in the foundation of a well-planned, comprehensive sports performance enhancement program.
General guidelines for Athlete Nutrition:
- Energy – for body weight maintenance, energy in must equal energy out. Therefore, athletes who burn fuel to perform have to consume more calories. Low energy (calorie) intake for high-intensity exercise can result in loss of muscle mass, menstrual dysfunction, loss of bone density. Calories should come from a healthful selection of foods high in carbohydrates, low in fat, and adequate in protein. Because of its high carbohydrate and low-fat content, a plant-based diet is an optimal sports diet. It is also rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants – important nutrients that help the body use energy and protect it from the stress of exercise.
- Carbohydrates – the primary fuel utilized during high-intensity exercise, boosts endurance and performance. Specific recommendations for athletes are based on weight and range from 6 to 10 grams per kilogram of body weight per day. Whole grains, fruits, and vegetables are excellent sources of carbohydrates. Depending on how strenuous the exercise, carbohydrates should be consumed during recovery, between 30 minutes and two hours post activity, when carbohydrate (glycogen) synthesis is at its maximum.
- Protein, composed of chains of molecules called amino acids, plays an important role in the building, maintenance, and repair of the tissues of the body, including muscle. Protein requirements for athletes may range from 1.2 to 1.7 grams per kilogram of body weight per day for the highly active adult athlete. Diet based on a variety of grains, legumes, and vegetables easily provides all of the essential amino acids. Plant-based protein sources are best because, unlike animal sources, they can contain fiber (a blood sugar balancer and intestinal scrub brush) and complex carbohydrates. Concentrated protein sources are not needed. However, abundant protein is found in tofu, soy milk, tempeh, seitan, and various meat analogues.
- Fat – the key point about fats is that animal fats are high in saturated fat and should be avoided. High-fat diets are not recommended for athletes.
Remember, the amount of work and effort an athlete exerts in performance training is only effective and beneficial if he puts the correct balance of healthy foods into his system AND the athlete gets sufficient sleep.
Having proper nutrition for athletes is crucial to performance enhancement and we strongly urge each athlete to treat it that way.