Nutrition affects the health and performance of athletes, bodybuilders or anyone simply exercising to improve their health. Good nutrition plays a key role in optimizing the beneficial effects of physical activity. Learning to eat healthily can help you implement a healthy relationship with food and enjoy special treats and food that makes you feel better. Nutrition should be a priority for any athlete.
Watching the best athletes in the world performing at such high levels, it is obvious there have been countless numbers of hours put into training at their respective sports. What may seem less obvious, is importance of the food these athletes eat, in helping them get into proper shape and maintain peak performance.
Importance of Good Nutrition for Athletes
Without proper nutrition, you will not attain your full athletic potential, and you are more susceptible to fatigue and injury. To achieve the full benefits of a well-designed performance enhancement program, you must include a balanced and nutrient dense diet.
A peak athletic diet has the following benefits.
• Weight control - Good nutrition helps in maintaining a healthy weight. Restricting carbohydrates and proteins to lose weight can not only be dangerous for an athlete but also affects their athletic performance. The types of food that should be include in an athlete's diet are whole grains, vegetables, fruits, healthy fats, low-fat dairy products and sources of lean proteins.
• Hydration – it is important to stay hydrated when you are working out or participating in sports. Water helps transport nutrients throughout your body as well as providing musculoskeletal lubrication.
• Maintains your energy - Carbohydrates and proteins provide the fuel needed to maintain energy levels. Carbohydrates regulate blood sugar and glycerin levels in your muscles to prevent muscle fatigue. Healthy eating is important for high energy levels throughout the day and for a good night's sleep.
• Fuels your performance – food is the body’s source of fuel, so if you provide your body with right nutrients, you will be rewarded with higher energy levels, faster recovery, more muscle and better performance.
As an athlete involved in activities that take a lot of endurance, you need a diet that can help you perform at your peak and recover quickly afterward.
Here are five simple guidelines that will help you eat like an olympian.
Load up on carbohydrates
Your body converts carbohydrates into glucose and stores them in your muscles as glycogen. During exercise, your body changes glycogen stored in your muscles for energy. Fat provides fatty acids, which the body uses as an energy source, particularly if your physical activity takes more than one hour. According to Dr. Jennifer Anderson, a registered dietician and professor at Colorado State University, fatty acids can provide more than 75 percent of energy endurance needed by athletes for long-term aerobic performance. Kim Tirapelle, a registered dietician, working with athletes at the Fresno State University says athlete's calories need, range from 2000-5000 calories a day.
Eat Enough Proteins
The average person needs 1.2 to 1.4 grams of proteins per kilogram of body weight per day. But athletes who are involved in resistance training need more proteins to build new tissues and use up as energy sources. A strength athlete may require up to 1.7 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. It is important to note that ingesting too many proteins can put a strain on your kidneys. Opt for high-quality protein foods such as fish, poultry, lean meat, beans, eggs, milk and nuts, instead of protein supplements. Milk is one of the best recovery fluids after an activity as it provides a good balance of proteins and carbohydrates. Milk contains casein, calcium and whey proteins. Research shows that whey protein in milk is absorbed quickly to help speed recovery after an event. Casein is absorbed slowly to help in the long-term recovery of muscles. Calcium helps maintain strong bones.
Intense exercise can lead to dehydration which can hurt your performance and threaten your life in some extreme cases. As an athlete practicing high-intensity activities, drink fluids early and often and don't wait until you are thirsty. Joshua Evan, an expert on dehydration and a physician at Children’s Hospital of Michigan, says that one way to monitor hydration is by keeping an eye on the color of your urine. A bright yellow or dark color indicates lack of enough fluids in the body while a pale yellow color means you are getting enough fluids. Athletes involved in resistance training, long-distance cyclists and marathon runners, should drink 8-12 ounces of fluid every 10 to 12 minutes during an event. Go for chilled drinks which help cool your body down and are easily absorbed compared to water at room temperature.
Replace Lost Electrolytes
Sweating is our bodies inbuilt mechanism to keep us cool, but it results in loss of both fluids and electrolytes. The number of electrolytes lost varies based on the intensity of the activity, body composition, and environment.
To replace electrolytes lost in sweat:
• Eat foods high in electrolytes – these include high potassium fruits such as coconuts, avocados, bananas, dates, and raisins. Vegetable sources high in electrolytes include potatoes, beans, spinach, and lentils.
• Don’t restrict salt in your diet – salt is beneficial for hydration after a long period of strenuous exercise and heavy sweating. Salt is the most depleted mineral from sweating, and it helps retain fluids in the body.
• Drink enough water – when the body is dehydrated blood gets thicker, and the heart must pump harder to transport blood throughout the body. This makes it difficult for the muscles to utilize nutrients. You will need to add more fluids depending on your activity, climate, your health and overall body composition.
Eat A Gluten-Free Diet
Gluten is a combination of two proteins: glutenin and gliadin. Gluten-free foods have less than 20 parts per million of gluten available in them. A gluten-free diet is a great way to detox and achieve a clean and clear system. An athlete’s diet typically relies on carbohydrates, and the majority of this energy might be derived from gluten-containing grains.
Importance of gluten-free diet to athletes
• Gluten-free diets help athletes improve digestion, which leads to improved nutrients absorption, which can then translate to improved performance. Replacing unhealthy snacks with fruits is important.
• A gluten-free diet minimizes the hypoglycemic effects that result from intense exercise.
• It helps maintain blood sugar levels during exercise which is optimal for an increase in muscle strength and stamina.
Types of gluten-free foods to consider
• Fruits, fresh vegetables, and legumes are good examples of gluten-free foods. These may include pineapples, tomatoes, spinach, cauliflower, lettuce, ginger, eggplants, and kale among others.
• Meats and poultry include beef, chicken, duck, salmon, pork, minced meat, turkey, lamb, fish, and cod.
Proper nutrition has benefits that far exceed weight goals. Good nutrition and hydration results in improved performance, recovery, and prevention of injury. It is essential to consume fluids after a training, game or athletic competition, to restore balance. The American college of sports medicine recommends eating high sodium foods such as cheese, pretzels, and soups for energy restoration.
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By Marry Stuart
Marry is a nutritionist and mother of two amazing princesses. She writes for pleasure and is happy to share her experience. Currently, she is launching her own project, SteroidsSaleGuide, where she publishes information collected from her research.
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