Your body is like an engine, if it’s not running on the optimal fuel, it’s not going to give an optimal performance.
Sports Nutrition Tips for Athletes
From tae kwon do to triathlons, here are some simple nutrition tips to eat right for competitive sports.
Nutrition for athletes can be broken down into five main areas:
When we sweat during exercise, we lose salts and electrolytes that are vital to bodily function. Drink fluids throughout training sessions and when possible during competitions.
Often an overlooked or undervalued aspect of training.
Key to a good performance.
Avoids quicker fatigue and increased chance of injury.
Aim to drink two to three litres of water a day.
Isotope and electrolyte drinks and gels can be useful during long, extended exercise.
One of the best indicators of how well hydrated you are is the colour of your urine. Clear or pale yellow, and you are good. If your urine is darker, you are not optimally hydrated and need to increase your fluid intake.
Protein is probably the most well-known aspect of sports training, thanks to Arnold Schwarzenegger’s popularisation of the protein-heavy bodybuilding diets through the 1980’s.
Protein is key in your body’s repair and function. Bodybuilders often recommend 2.6-2.2g of protein per kilo of bodyweight per day. For strength and endurance athletes, the British Nutrition Foundation recommend 1.2-1.7g of protein per kilogram of bodyweight per day. You don’t need to eat like a bodybuilder unless you are, well, bodybuilding. This is particularly true when protein becomes prioritised over other food groups. Variety is the spice of life.
Good sources of protein:
Lean meat cuts.
Beans (particularly black beans).
Tofu and tempeh.
Endurance athletes should aim to get 15-20% of their calorie intake from protein.
Those looking to put on more muscle should aim for 25-30%.
Carbohydrates encompass everything from starchy food types like potatoes, pasta and rice, to fruits and less carb-heavy leafy greens and vegetables. You want to be taking most of your carbohydrates from the latter, but starchy foods are important too, particularly for athletes.
Healthy starchy carb sources:
For whole fruit and vegetables eat as many and as much variety as possible.
Endurance athletes should aim to get 55-70% of calories from carbohydrates.
Those looking to gain muscle should aim for 40-50%.
Glycaemic index is a good way of gauging when to eat certain carbs at the right times.
A high GI value means a greater blood sugar response when consumed.
A lower GI value means a lower blood sugar response when consumed.
Low GI foods before exercise can provide you with sustained release carbohydrates.
Moderate to high GI foods during prolonged, intense exercise provide fast acting fuel.
High GI foods are great for post workout recovery.
Fats provide energy, vitamins and essential fatty acids, but should be eaten in moderation. Despite recent buzz about the keto diet (low carb, fat heavy), some studies show this can have a negative effect on certain people’s bodies. So, unless you are willing to spend money on professional blood monitoring throughout keto, a more traditional low-fat diet is recommended.
Healthy Fat Sources:
Oily fish (like salmon and tuna).
Extra virgin olive oil.
Endurance athletes should aim to get 20-35% of their calories from healthy fats.
Those aiming to gain more muscle should aim for 20-30%.
Eat fatty foods in moderation.
Opt for healthy fats such as polyunsaturated and monosaturated fats.
Supplements aren’t entirely necessary in a well-planned, balanced diet. An athlete may wish to intake extra vitamins and minerals to cover their bases, however. A good multivitamin is a great place to start.
Multivitamins should include:
Vitamins C, A, E, K and D.
Thiamine, Riboflavin, B6, Folic Acid (The B vitamins).
Top supplements for athletes:
BCAAs (Branch chain amino acids), the building blocks of protein.
Glutamine is another amino acid used in protein synthesis with potential benefits to the gut and immune system.
Whey protein, the go to supplement for post-workout recovery on the go.
Casein protein is a slow-release protein that is also found in Greek yoghurt and cottage cheese.
Fish oils have many benefits such as inflammation reduction and vitamin D intake.
CBD oil has proven anti-inflammatory properties, particularly in the brain, which is beneficial for high-impact sport.
Creatine Monohydrate increases muscle endurance during exercise, but may cause problems in weight-dependent sport (such as wrestling or boxing) due the muscle gain it causes.
Ultimately its always best to get your nutritional intake from whole food sources, but supplements can give you an edge or help you through a particularly tough training period or competition. Fuel right, train happy.