Sports Nutrition For Athletes

November 12, 2015 - Edmonton, AB - Photos for the faculty of rehab medicine, University of Alberta. Photo by Jimmy Jeong

A well-balanced diet that includes all food groups helps athletes grow and perform optimally. A nutritionist can help plan meals and snacks that provide enough energy for training and competition.

Carbohydrates are the body’s main fuel for exercise, so consuming carbohydrate-rich foods such as whole grain bread and cereal, fruit and low-fat yogurt, and pasta is important for sports performance.CarbohydratesCarbohydrates are the body’s main energy source during exercise and are broken down into glucose which fuels muscles. Athletes participating in prolonged endurance sports are often encouraged to increase carbohydrate intake as a means of improving performance. Guidelines are based on grams of carbohydrates per day and vary depending on exercise intensity and duration. A dietitian can help determine individual needs.Carbohydrate intake prior to training or an event is important to maintain blood glucose levels and load muscle glycogen stores. This can prevent the dreaded ‘hitting the wall’ symptom which is caused by depletion of muscle and liver glycogen and improves performance.Carbohydrate intake after exercise is also important to promote recovery and replace liver and muscle glycogen stores. Suitable foods and drinks include low-fat yoghurt, cereal and milk, pasta, muffins/crumpets, bread and fruit. Some athletes might have GI issues with these foods so it is worth testing them out in advance of an event or training session.ProteinAt one time, sports nutrition products were niche items primarily marketed to body builders and elite athletes. However, the popularity of exercise among health-conscious consumers has given these products a foothold in the mass market.The International Society of Sport Nutrition recommends that exercising individuals ingest protein ranging from 1.4 to 2.0 grams per kilogram of body weight each day. Individuals engaging in endurance activities should ingest protein at the lower end of this range, while individuals engaged in intermittent exercises (such as soccer) should ingest protein at the middle of the range and individuals who engage in strength/power exercise should ingest protein at the upper end of this range.Consuming dietary protein from both whole foods and supplements, particularly whey and casein proteins with high digestibility corrected amino acid scores and branched chain amino acids (leucine, isoleucine and valine), can promote muscle protein accretion. Athletes should consume a protein-rich meal 3 hours prior to an activity and eat protein at regular intervals during their activity as well as within the hour after their activity.FatFat provides a secondary energy source for athletes and is important in many ways. Fats can help support hormone production, act as a structural component of cell membranes and facilitate metabolic processes.Like carbs, dietary fat should be consumed in balanced amounts and throughout the day. It is recommended that fat intake comes from non-saturated sources and should be limited to 10% of daily calories – this is because eating too much dietary fat can lead to unwanted weight gain.It is not a good idea to consume fat directly prior to an exercise session as it can slow down gastric emptying. Ideally, fat should be consumed in meals away from training. For example, having a handful of nuts or seeds with breakfast or having avocado on your sandwich at lunch is ideal. Some people may also use supplemental fat intake in the form of sports drinks or protein powders. It is a good idea to consult an accredited sports dietitian and/or a registered nutritionist before you consider taking any supplements as they can advise you on the appropriate dosages for your goals, circumstances and sport.WaterOptimal performance during exercise depends on maintaining the proper water intake. The body is 73% water and consuming adequate fluids supports heart stroke volume, maintains sweat rates, delivers nutrients to working cells and enhances removal of metabolic wastes.Athletes should drink water during workouts/competitions as well as between meals and snacks to avoid dehydration. They should start pre-activity hydration with 2.3 to 4.5 milliliters per pound of body weight (water or sports drink) and continue drinking throughout the event until thirst is quenched.Carbohydrate-electrolyte beverages, like Gatorade, can be used to replace lost carbohydrates and electrolytes during high intensity or prolonged activities. It is recommended that athletes consume sports drinks with a low sodium content, as excessive sodium intake increases risk of cardiovascular disease and may impair renal function. An Accredited Sports Dietitian can help tailor an appropriate fluid plan for each athlete based on their sweat rate and activity level. Athletes can monitor hydration by looking at the color of their urine (light yellow indicates they are hydrated and dark urine suggests dehydration). They can also weigh themselves before and after practice to determine if they have any fluid loss.


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