Sports Nutrition is a real thing and is a competitive edge difference-maker for many athletes.
Have you ever heard someone say: “Back when I played sports, I ate whatever I wanted, never gained weight and had the best-looking body I’ve ever had.” Maybe you are that adult who recalls a time when you were so physically active that what you ate didn’t seem to matter. Well, times are a-changing. Now more than ever before, sports medicine research is pointing to what an athlete eats as an integral part of their training regimen. Yes, you read that right. Science is revealing that nutrition is just as critical to an athlete’s performance as how well they train for their sport. So, whether or not you play a competitive sport, there is a message here for everyone.
The premise of something called Sports Nutrition is straightforward. An athlete must give his or her body enough hydration and the right food “fuel” to reap the most significant athletic rewards. What’s more, proper nutrition can also help athletes get stronger, more powerful and increase their endurance when they train. Most published sports nutrition guidelines are general. You should consult your doctor for a more tailored approach that considers factors like your age, weight, physical condition, and the type of sport you are involved in or exercise you are performing.
Though most people think of “nutrition” as what they eat, what you drink is crucial, and proper nutrition for anyone includes a focus on adequate hydration. For athletes and everyone else on planet Earth – water is the most critical nutrient you will ever consume. More than half of your body weight is water, and you can’t make it or store it because it is lost through urine and sweat. Thus, your body’s water stores must be replenished constantly so that almost every function in your body stays in proper working order. As a general rule, aim for 64 oz. of water every day – even more on days when you’re training or playing a sport.
Beyond water as the essential nutrient for athletes (and everyone else), what you consume and in what amounts is also crucial. Carbohydrates, carbs for short, are the most critical fuel source for athletes and active people. You can view carbs as your body’s “battery life.” When the body uses up carbohydrate stores during exercise, it begins to burn protein and fat instead, which can cause a drop in performance levels. To prevent a drop in performance, carbohydrates should make up 60-70% of the calories that active athletes consume each day.
Protein is the “regenerator” in the sports nutrition equation, giving your body the ability to repair and build muscle and to generate new tissues. The amount of protein an athlete needs depends on a variety of factors, including the total daily calories consumed, the level of athletic fitness, the exercise type, intensity and duration, and more. But generally speaking, proteins should make up about 12-15% of your daily calorie intake.
The way an athlete’s body uses fat, the final component in the sports nutrition mix, depends on what exercise is being performed and its duration. When at rest, fat is your primary fuel source. But as the intensity level of exercise increases, fat becomes a primary fuel source. Once you get into the intense exercise zone and your body has used up its carbohydrate supply, it will burn fat to give you energy. This usually decreases the intensity of the exercise. Fats should comprise no more than 20-30% of your daily calorie intake.
A complete and adaptable nutrition and hydration program is essential for everyone. Being intentional about what you are putting into your body doesn’t only help optimize your physical and mental performance. It can also help reduce disease risk and sets you up for better self-care when you are sick or injured. Athlete or not, you must adapt your dietary program to your lifestyle, taking into account the types of exercise you do and the environment you do it in. Making the best food choices provides us with sustenance to become successful in whatever we are pursuing.