Nutrition and Athletic Performance
Alternate Names : Sports Nutrition
Nutrition, also called healthy eating, plays a key role
in athletic performance.
Healthy nutrition should be a part of every athlete's training
program. Whether an athlete enjoys sports for fun or competition, he or
she needs healthy nutrition. The body needs calories and nutrients to
run a race or to take a walk.
Generally, sports can be divided into 2 categories.
short duration/high intensity, as in sprinting or weight lifting
long duration/lower intensity, as in sustained running or jogging
In reality, most sports alternate between the two.
Athletes need healthy amounts of calories,
electrolytes and antioxidants, which are substances
that fight the effects of free radicals that can damage the body, are important,
Calories from carbohydrates
are the quickest source of body fuel.
Carbohydrates are easily broken down to sugar, also called glucose.
Glucose circulates in blood and is taken up by cells that need energy.
For active people, a steady intake of carbohydrates fuels the muscle cells.
Carbohydrates also fuel the heart, nerves, and brain cells.
Glucose can be stored in the muscles and liver.
This form of glucose is called glycogen (glie-kah-jen). When blood glucose
levels start to fall, glycogen is changed to glucose, raising blood glucose
levels. Well trained athletes who eat a high-carbohydrate diet can improve
glycogen stores. This means more fuel for longer workouts. Commonly
called "carbohydrate loading," this type of diet works by building
Before a strenuous event, a high carbohydrate meal such
as pasta, potatoes, or rice is recommended. Tomato sauce on the pasta
and toppings on potatoes are OK. Just make sure that 70% to 80%
of the calories for the meal should come from carbohydrates.
Strenuous workouts should be followed by a snack
or meal of 100 to 200 grams of carbohydrates to replace the glycogen
stores. For example, 1 cup of white rice and a few pieces of fruit
add up to 100 grams of carbohydrate. In general, endurance athletes
should build a diet based on the bottom of the Food Guide Pyramid.
These are foods high in carbohydrates and include grains, breads,
starchy vegetables, fruits, yogurt, and milk.
People involved in short-duration, high-intensity activities
need carbohydrates, too. People in sports such as weight lifting
tend to focus on protein. Protein helps with muscle growth, but
carbohydrates fuel the body. Carbohydrates should make up about
55% to 65% of the total calories eaten.
Some athletes want to build muscle mass. To do so,
protein intake should be between 1 to 2 grams per kilogram of body weight.
For example, a 154-pound (70-kilogram) person can eat 70 to 114 grams of
protein per day. Eating more protein than that taxes the kidneys and can
be harmful. People who eat a lot of protein should also drink a lot of water.
Water will help flush out the waste products from the breakdown of protein
in the body, which helps to avoid any harmful effects.
Water is a key factor in ensuring an athlete's health.
In addition to the 8 glasses a day that all healthy people need,
athletes should drink 1 to 2 cups before working
out or competing in an event. Endurance athletes need to drink 4 to 10
ounces every 15 to 20 minutes during training or competition. Water or
sports beverages are OK. Drinks that contain caffeine or alcohol are not.
This is because they are both diuretics that can lead to dehydration,
which is a loss of body fluid.
Sports beverages are a good source of the electrolyte
minerals potassium, sodium, and chloride. These drinks can help
replace those key minerals in athletes who sweat a lot. However,
simply eating a balanced diet will also provide plenty of electrolytes.
Iron is another key mineral for athletes. It helps carry
oxygen in the blood. Female and/or vegetarian athletes should have
their iron levels checked to screen for iron deficiency anemia.
Exercise causes oxidative stress, a type of stress caused
by exposure to oxygen. Athletes may have a higher need for antioxidant
nutrients. Athletes should make sure they get the recommended daily
allowance for vitamins A,
C , and
as well as the mineral selenium.