What you eat and drink is just as important as the intensity with which you train when it comes to athletic performance. Maintaining a sports nutrition program helps you perform at your best and get stronger.
Specific nutrient requirements vary depending on your athletic height and how often you participate. Consulting with a nutritionist or sports dietitian is the best way to develop a plan tailored to your needs and activity, but all programs include a few basics.
“Macronutrients” refer to the three major components of food: fat, carbohydrate and protein. Everyone should limit fat and aim to eat more unsaturated fat than saturated fat. Go for nuts, unrefined oil seeds, and lean meats like chicken or fish.
Carbohydrates are what give you energy, and protein helps build and repair muscle. It’s a myth that all athletes should eat a diet high in protein and low in carbohydrates. Your muscles need stored glucose from carbohydrates to maintain energy and athletic performance. The amount of carbohydrate and protein you need varies depending on your sport. Endurance sports athletes need more carbohydrates for sustained energy and a modest level of protein. Power sports athletes need more protein and a moderate amount of carbohydrate.
Protein is one of the main nutrients you hear about when it comes to exercise, but that doesn’t mean you should gobble up a protein shake with every meal. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics reports that many nutrition experts say that athletes should consume 1.2 to 2 grams of protein per kilogram (approximately 0.55 to 0.9 grams per pound) of body weight each day. Protein intake should be distributed throughout the day and can come from plant and animal sources. The International Olympic Committee recommends that athletes consume 15 to 25 grams of protein within two hours of a workout for the best results and muscle repair.
Eat a balanced meal three to four hours before training or a game. Choose whole grains combined with protein and medium fat. Sweet potatoes are a great fuel for a workout. Grilled chicken salad with dark fruits and leafy greens is a good pick-up option.
Micronutrients refer to all the other vitamins and minerals you need. Athletes need to make sure they are getting plenty of calcium and vitamin D as well as iron, B vitamins, zinc, and magnesium.
Put it all together
You can get proper sports nutrition from diet alone. Sometimes supplements or shakes come in handy when you’re pressed for time, but it’s always best to eat whole foods. Keep these tips in mind when thinking about your balanced diet:
- For macronutrients, choose whole grains of lean meat and lots of fruits and vegetables. You don’t have to eat meat to cover your protein needs. Many high performance athletes are vegetarians or follow a plant-based diet.
- Eat lots of fruits and vegetables. These provide you with micronutrients, antioxidants, and carbohydrates. Limit red meat and opt for low fat dairy products.
- Some good foods for fuel include oatmeal, low fat yogurt, nuts, bananas, salmon roe, oranges, and flax seeds. Try to combine these ingredients in meals and snacks.
Wash it off
What you drink is also important. Drinking water throughout the day is the best way to remain hydrated. Sports drinks can be helpful in replenishing electrolytes and carbohydrates lost during exercise, but the American Council on Exercise lists some foods that contain the same nutrients. If you sweat a lot while playing, look for drinks that contain salt and potassium.
Training hard requires that you have a well-planned diet to ensure that your food meets your body’s energy and recovery needs. A nutritionist can provide advice tailored to your athletic and dietary preferences to help you get the best performance.