Sport Nutrition For Athletes
Whether it's playing football, swimming
or jogging, athletes need to eat a nutritious, balanced
diet to fuel their body. Good sport nutrition, like any sporting
event, has basic ground rules. Following these rules
and getting plenty of practice will help athletes feel
great and score those winning points!
What diet is best for athletes?
All athletes need a diet that provides
enough energy in the form of carbohydrates and fats
as well as essential protein, vitamins and minerals.
This means a diet containing 55-60 percent of calories
from carbohydrates (10 to 15 percent from sugars and
the rest from starches), no more than 30 percent of
calories from fat and the remaining (about 10-15 percent)
That translates into eating a variety
of foods every day - grains, vegetables, fruits, beans,
lean meats, and low fat dairy products. The base of
the diet should come from carbohydrates in the form
of starches and sugars. Fluids, especially water, are
also important to the winning combination. Dehydration
can stop even the finest athlete from playing his or
her best game.
Are carbohydrates important for
When starches or sugars are eaten,
the body changes them all to glucose, the only form
of carbohydrate used directly by muscles for energy.
Whether carbohydrates are in the form of starches (in
vegetables and grains), sucrose (table sugar), fructose
(found in fruits and juices) or lactose (milk sugar),
carbohydrates are digested and ultimately changed to
The body uses this glucose in the
blood for energy. Most glucose is stored as glycogen
in the liver and muscles. During exercise glycogen is
broken down in the muscles and provides energy. Usually
there is enough glycogen in muscles to provide fuel
for 90-120 minutes of exercise.
Most exercise and sport games do not
use up glycogen stores so eating carbohydrates during
the activity usually isn't needed. But for some athletes,
eating or drinking carbohydrates during exercise helps
maintain their blood glucose and energy levels.
Most athletes need not be concerned
with "carbohydrate loading," the special technique of
eating a lot of carbohydrates for several days before
an endurance event. Instead, focus on getting enough
carbohydrates everyday. The best way to ensure plenty
of energy for exercise is to eat a nutritious, balanced
diet that is high in carbohydrates and low in fat with
lots of different foods.
Do athletes need extra protein
or protein supplements to build muscles?
No. Muscles develop from training
and exercise. A certain amount of protein is needed
to help build the muscles but a nutritious, balanced
diet that includes two or three servings from the meat/bean/egg
group (6-7 ounces total) and two to three servings of
dairy daily will supply all of the protein that the
Extra servings of protein in foods
or protein supplements do not assist in muscle development.
Unlike carbohydrates, protein cannot be stored in the
body and any excess will be burned for energy or stored
as body fat.
What should an athlete eat
before, during and after exercise?
The most important thing is to concentrate
on eating a nutritious, balanced diet every day. This
provides plenty of energy to grow and exercise. Here
are a few tips about eating before, during and after
- Have some high carbohydrate foods
like bananas, bagels or fruit juices. These foods
are broken down quickly and provide glucose to the
- The timing of this meal depends
on athletes' preference for eating before exercise,
but researchers have found that eating something from
1 to 4 hours before exercise helps keep plenty of
blood glucose available for working muscles.
- It is also critical to drink plenty
of cool water before exercise to keep muscles hydrated.
- Perspiration and exertion deplete
the body of fluids necessary for an optimal performance
and lead to dehydration. It is important to drink
plenty of cool water, at least a half a cup of water
every 20 minutes of exercise. Adding a teaspoon of
sugar, a little fruit juice or a small amount of powdered
drink mix flavors plain water and may encourage fluid
- Usually there is no need to worry
about replacing carbohydrates unless the exercise
lasts over 90 minutes and is hard and continuous.
When this happens, drinking a sports drink or other
beverage with some sugar in it will fuel and water
to the muscles being exercised.
- Make a homemade sport nutrition drink by
mixing no more than 4 teaspoon of sugar, 1/4 teaspoon
of salt and some flavoring (like a teaspoon of lemon
juice) in 8 ounces of water.
If the exercise was strenuous and
lasted a long time, glycogen stores may need refueling.
Consuming foods and sport nutrition beverages high in carbohydrates
right after exercise will replenish glycogen stores
if they are low after exercising.
No matter the intensity of the exercise,
it's important to drink plenty of water and eat a nutritious,
balanced meal that has lots of carbohydrate rich foods
such as grains, pastas, potatoes, vegetables and fruits.
A teaspoon of sugar, at only 15 calories* per teaspoon,
adds flavor to these foods and may increase taste appeal.
*Note: Like all carbohydrates, sugar
has 4 calories per gram, and there are 4 grams to a
teaspoon. The FDA's 1993 food labeling regulations require
rounding to 15 calories on consumer packages.
Here is more information about the proven sport nutrition I recommend to my personal training clients for strength, muscle building, and fat loss