Nutrition and Sports Performance

The link between good health and good nutrition is well established. Interest in nutrition and its impact on sports performance is now a science in itself.

Whether you are a competitive athlete, a weekend sportsman or a dedicated daily exerciser, the basis for improving performance is a nutritionally adequate diet.

Photo by Vince Fleming / Unsplash

Daily training diet requirements

The basic training diet should be sufficient to:

  • Provide sufficient energy and nutrients to meet training and exercise demands;
  • Improve adaptation and recovery between training sessions;
  • They include a wide variety of foods, such as whole-grain breads and cereals, vegetables (mainly green leafy varieties), fruits, lean meats and low-fat dairy products to improve long-term nutritional habits and behaviors;
  • Allow the athlete to reach ideal levels of body weight and body fat for performance;
  • Provide adequate fluids to ensure maximum hydration before, during and after exercise;
  • Promote the short and long term health of athletes.

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The athlete’s diet

An athlete’s diet should be similar to that recommended for the general public, with energy intake divided into:

  • More than 55% of carbohydrates;
  • About 12 to 15 percent protein;
  • Less than 30% of the fat.

Athletes who exercise vigorously for more than 60 to 90 minutes every day may need to increase the amount of energy they get from carbohydrates to between 65 and 70%.

A more recent advice also provides guidelines for carbohydrates and proteins based on grams per kilogram (g / kg) of body weight. Current recommendations for fat intake are for most athletes to follow recommendations similar to those given to the general community, with a preference for fats from oils, nuts, avocados, nuts and seeds.

Athletes should also seek to minimize their intake of high-fat foods, such as cookies, cakes, sweets, snacks and fried foods.

Carbs and Exercise

During digestion, all carbohydrates are broken down into sugar (glucose), which is the body’s main source of energy.

Glucose can be converted to glycogen and stored in the liver and muscle tissue. It can then be used as a key energy source during exercise to fuel muscle tissue and other systems in the body.

Athletes can increase their glycogen stores by regularly eating carbohydrate-rich foods.

If carbohydrate in the diet is restricted, a person’s ability to exercise is compromised because there is not enough glycogen stored to feed the body.

This can result in loss of protein (muscle) tissue, because the body begins to break down muscle tissue to supply its energy needs and can increase the risk of infections and diseases.

Carbohydrates are essential for fuel and recovery

Current recommendations for carbohydrate requirements vary depending on the duration, frequency and intensity of exercise.

Foods rich in unrefined carbohydrates, such as whole grain breads and cereals, should form the basis of the athlete’s diet.

More refined carbohydrate foods (such as white bread, jams and lollipops) are useful for increasing your total carbohydrate intake, especially for very active people.

Athletes are advised to adjust the amount of carbohydrates they consume for supply and recovery, according to the level of exercise. For example:

  • Light intensity exercise (30 minutes / day): 3-5 g / kg / day
  • Moderate intensity exercise (60 min / day): 5 to 7g / kg / day
  • Resistance exercise (1 to 3 hours / day): 6 to 10 g / kg / day
  • Extreme resistance exercise (more than 4 hours / day): 8-12 g / kg / day

Sports performance and glycemic index

The glycemic index (GI) classifies foods and fluids by how rich they are in carbohydrates and how quickly they affect the body’s blood sugar levels.

The GI has become of increasing interest to athletes in the field of sports nutrition.

Further research is needed to confirm the best recommendations for sports nutrition.

However, there is a suggestion that low GI foods may be useful before exercise to provide more sustained energy release.

Moderate to high foods and fluids can be the most beneficial during exercise and in the early recovery period.

However, it is important to remember that the type and timing of food eaten must be adapted to personal preferences and maximize the performance of the specific sport in which the person is involved.

Pre-event meal

The pre-event meal is an important part of the athlete’s pre-exercise preparation. A high-carbohydrate meal three to four hours before exercise appears to have a positive effect on performance.

A small snack one to two hours before exercise can also benefit performance.

Some people may experience a negative response to eating close to exercising. A meal rich in fat or protein can increase the risk of digestive discomfort.

It is recommended that meals just before exercise are rich in carbohydrates and do not cause gastrointestinal discomfort.

Examples of pre-exercise meals and appropriate snacks include low-fat cereal and milk, toast / muffins / muffins, fruit salad and yogurt, pasta with tomato-based sauce, low-fat breakfast or muesli or rice with low fat.

Eating during exercise

During exercise that lasts more than 60 minutes, a carbohydrate intake is needed to increase blood glucose levels and delay fatigue.

Current recommendations suggest 30-60 g of carbohydrates is sufficient, and can be in the form of popsicles, sports gels, low-fat muesli and sports bars or sandwiches with white bread.

It is important to start intake at the beginning of the exercise and consume regular amounts during the exercise period.

It is also important to consume regular fluids during prolonged exercise to avoid dehydration. Sports drinks, diluted fruit juice and water are appropriate choices.

For people who exercise for more than four hours, up to 90 grams of carbohydrates per hour is recommended.

Eating after exercise

Rapid glycogen replacement is important after exercise. Foods rich in carbohydrates and liquids should be consumed after exercise, especially in the first one to two hours after exercise.

To replenish glycogen stores after exercise, ingest carbohydrates with moderate to high GI in the first half hour after exercise. This should continue until the normal pattern of meals is resumed.

Suitable choices for starting refueling include sports drinks, juices, cereals and low-fat milk, low-fat milk, sandwiches, pasta, dumplings, fruit and yogurt.

Protein and sports performance

Protein is an important part of a training diet and plays a key role in post-exercise recovery and repair.

Protein needs are usually met by following a high carbohydrate diet, because many foods, especially cereal-based foods, are a combination of carbohydrates and proteins.

The amount of protein recommended for sports people is only slightly higher than that recommended for the general public. For example:

  • General public and active people – the recommended daily amount of protein is 0.8 to 1.0 g / kg of body weight (a person of 60 kg should eat about 45 to 60 g of protein per day).
  • Sportsmen involved in non-resistance events – people who exercise daily for 45 to 60 minutes should consume between 1.0 to 1.2 g / kg of body weight per day.
  • Sportsmen involved in endurance events and strength events – people who exercise for longer periods (more than an hour) or who are involved in strength exercises, such as weight lifting, should consume between 1.2-1.7 g / kg of body weight protein per day.

Dietary surveys have found that most athletic groups reach comfortably and often exceed their protein needs by consuming a high-energy diet. Therefore, protein supplements are unlikely to improve your sports performance.

While more research is needed, other concerns associated with very high protein diets include:

  • Cost increase;
  • A potential negative impact on kidney function;
  • Weight gain if protein choices are also high in fat;
  • Lack of other nutritious foods in the diet, such as bread, cereals, fruits and vegetables.

Using nutritional supplements to improve sports performance

A well-planned diet will meet your vitamin and mineral needs. Supplements will only be of benefit if your diet is inadequate or if you have a diagnosed deficiency, such as iron or calcium deficiency. There is no evidence that extra doses of vitamins improve sports performance.

Nutritional supplements can be found in tablets, pills, capsules, in powder or liquid form, and cover a wide range of products, including:

  • Vitamins
  • Minerals
  • Herbs
  • Meal Supplements
  • Sports nutrition products
  • Natural food supplements.

Before using supplements, you should consider what else you can do to improve your sports performance – lifestyle, training and lifestyle changes are the most proven and economical ways to improve your performance.

The use of vitamin and mineral supplements is also potentially dangerous. Supplements should not be taken without the advice of a qualified healthcare professional. It is better for dietary imbalances to be adjusted after analyzing and changing your diet, rather than using a supplement or pill.

It is also important to remember that if you take supplements, you run the risk of violating the anti-doping rule, regardless of the level of sport you practice.

Water and sports performance

Dehydration can impair athletic performance and, in extreme cases, can lead to collapse and even death. Drinking plenty of fluids before, during and after exercise is very important.

Do not wait until you are thirsty. Fluid intake is particularly important for events that last more than 60 minutes, at high intensity or in hot conditions.

Water is a suitable drink, but sports drinks may be necessary, especially in events of resistance or hot climates. Sports drinks contain a little sodium, which aids absorption. A sodium content of 30 mmol / L (millimoles per liter) seems to be adequate in sports nutrition.

Using salt pills to fight muscle cramps is no longer recommended. It is the lack of water, not sodium, that affects muscle tissue. Persistent muscle cramps can be due to zinc or magnesium deficiencies.

Other important details

  • Good nutrition can improve sports performance.
  • A well-planned and nutritious diet should satisfy most of an athlete’s vitamin and mineral needs and provide enough protein to promote muscle growth and repair.
  • Foods rich in unrefined carbohydrates, such as whole grain breads and cereals, should form the basis of the diet.
  • Water is a great fluid option for athletes to help with performance and prevent dehydration.


by Abdullah Sam
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