Just like fitness, discipline and training, there’s one more fundamental factor to be greatly focused on in a sports person’s life. And it is nothing else but – FOOD! Yeah, food is a critical piece of the puzzle. Just think of your body as a car, it won’t be able to run properly without the right fuel. Yes, nutrition is the basic requirement of the body to play sports and this is what makes sports nutrition so important in a sportsman’s life. Through this blog, you’ll be learning the benefits of proper sports nutrition, the intervals of food intake, and the nutritional requirements in detail. Go, read it.
Benefits of sports nutrition
Nutrition is important indeed for athletes because it is the basic source of energy. It ultimately impacts our strength, training, performance and recovery.
Ideal sports nutrition helps a sportsperson in the following ways:
- Enables one to train longer and harder
- Delays onset of fatigue
- Maintains healthy immune system
- Enhances performance
- Improves recovery
- Improves body composition
- Reduces potential of injury
- Helps with focus and concentration
Calories fueling an athlete’s energy
What is calorie?
Calorie is the measure of energy you get from food intake. Our body breaks down calories to derive energy while performing activities. One needs to replace the number of calories one burns each day. An athlete requires 2000-2500 calories a day.
Calories come in different forms and their main forms are as follows:
Carbohydrates are the biggest source of calories. It is mostly stored in the muscles and liver and is required to provide energy during exercise. Carbohydrates are further divided into two types:
- Simple carbohydrates
These carbohydrates are easier to break down and provide quick bursts of energy. Source: Fruits, milk, vegetables, etc.
- Complex carbohydrates
These carbohydrates take longer to break down, but are better source of energy over time. Source: Whole grain bread, potatoes, brown rice, oatmeal, kidney beans, etc. 55%-60% of your daily calories should come from carbohydrates.
Protein helps for muscle growth and to repair body tissues. It can also be used by the body for energy, but only after carbohydrate store have been used up.Source: meat, eggs, milk, beans and nuts.
Proteins should make up 10%-15% of your daily calories. Amino acid supplements and eating a lot of proteins is not recommended. This is because, over time, too much protein can be harmful to your health. The digestion process can put strain on your liver and kidneys.
Fats are another important source of calories. In small amounts, fat is a key fuel resource. It helps in supporting good skin and hair. DO NOT replace carbohydrates in your diet with fats. This can slow you down, as your body has to work harder to burn fat for energy. Always prefer saturated fats over unsaturated ones. Source of unsaturated fats: olive and peanut oils, avocados, pumpkin, almonds, hazelnuts, sesame seeds, etc.
Also, do not include too much fats in your diet, as it can cause health problems, raise bad (LDL) cholesterol level and increase your risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Allow fats to make up less than 30% of your daily calories.
Regular and balanced intake of these nutrients will help you stay healthy, fit and perform well. Try not to be tempted by junk foods, which are an empty source of calories. Instead, focus on lean meats, whole grains, and a mixture of fruits and vegies to fuel your body.
Know when to eat!
For athletes, knowing when to eat is as important as knowing what to eat.
- Pre-event meal
Try eating a well-balanced pre-game meal 2-4 hours before your event to allow proper digestion. (This meal should be high in complex carbohydrates and low in protein and sugar) If it’s an early morning event, try to eat at least 2 hours beforehand. You should avoid rich and greasy foods; they are harder for you to digest and may cause an upset stomach. It is helpful to avoid food the hour before a sporting event. This is because digestion uses up energy.
- Eating during practice/training
If practice/training lasts for more than 60 minutes, intake of carbohydrate is required to top up blood glucose level and delay fatigue. One should prefer having toffies, sports bars or sandwiches with white bread. To stay hydrated, diluted fruit juice, sports drink and water are suitable choices.
- Eating after practice/training
Rapid replacement of glycogen is important following exercise. Carbohydrate foods and fluids should be consumed in the first one to two hours after exercise. Suitable choices to start refueling include sports drink, juices, cereal and low-fat milk, sandwiches, pasta, muffin/crumpets, fruit and yoghurt.
- Stay hydrated
Our body is made up of nearly 60% water. During workout/play, we quickly lose fluid in the form of sweat and start feeling thirsty. Thirst is a sign of dehydration. Don’t wait until you are thirsty; try drinking water every 15-20 minutes. But, don’t drink so much that you feel full. For shorter events, water can replace what you lose from sweating. For longer events, prefer sports drink. They provide electrolytes and carbohydrates. Drink chocolate milk or white milk is a good option as milk helps in muscle recovery; it contains less sugar than other energy drinks and contains many vitamins and minerals. Avoid drinking caffeine, they can dehydrate you more and make you feel anxious.
Nutritional supplements to improve sporting performance
A well-balanced and planned diet should be able to meet your nutritional needs. Supplements will be of benefit if your diet is inadequate or if you have nutritional deficiency.
Nutritional supplements can be found in pill, tablet, capsule, power or liquid form and cover a broad range of products including:
- Meal supplements
- Sports nutrition products
- Natural food supplements
NOTE: Supplements should not be taken without the advice of qualified health professionals.
These are some of the key aspects you need to consider and follow in your sports nutrition. Make sure to focus on these things in order to perform well. So, eat well, stay well and perform well!
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