Nutrition for Athletes
How Nutrition Affects Athletes
Every cell in the body depends on water, nourishment and oxygen to function properly. In a normal, healthy person, food determines approximately 65-70 percent of how he or she looks and feels. Approximately 10-15 percent of good health depends on exercise or activity; 10-15 percent depends on sleep, and 5-10 percent depends on genetics and health-related issues. A person can eat healthy and adequately with moderate activity and nominal exercise and easily maintain or improve the way he or she looks and feels.
Combining proper nutrition for athletes with adequate activity or exercise creates an optimal healthy outcome with minimal sacrifice. In a highly active lifestyle, such as an athlete’s, the fuel consumed greatly affects performance. Knowing and understanding proper nutrition is essential for optimal performance, recovery and growth.
Once an athlete reaches his or her peak and is competing at the top level, the playing field is relatively equal. One major aspect of training and performance that gives athletes a superior edge over competitors is fuel intake on and off the field. Athletes can only perform, recover and grow as efficiently as the body’s fuel utilization process permits. Any deficiency or inadequacy affects this process.
Basic Nutrition Rules – Nutrition for athletes is an important process that many seem to neglect. Food is fuel!
- Most people eat too much of what they do not need and not enough of what they do need.
- It is important to learn what is bad for the body and also what is good for it.
- Being calorie conscious is important, but understanding what the calories consist of is vital.
- Maintaining good nutritional balance is essential for proper fueling and nourishment.
- Eating 5-7 times per day creates stable blood sugar levels, energy levels and satiety, while managing hunger and preventing binging.
- Breakfast is the most important meal of the day and should be one of the largest.
- Meals should correlate directly to activity, lifestyle and exercise.
- Consume food as needed to avoid becoming too hungry or too full.
- Eat clean, natural foods in reasonable portions as needed.
- Eat healthy and balanced meals 75 percent or more of the time.
- Avoid or limit caffeinated drinks when possible, including sodas. Drink plenty of water.
- Approximately 98 percent of fast food is bad for the body. A grocery store is a much better place to find meals and snacks.
- Going without food can be worse than eating a moderate amount of something less healthy.
- Fix food with food and exercise with exercise. Do not justify one with the other.
- Maintain blood sugar balance (with fruit and low carbs) and nitrogen balance (with protein frequency) to avoid crashes and cravings.
To maintain balance and avoid cravings, eat frequently, 5-7 times per day, and include all macronutrients while consuming plenty of water.
Athletes should log and track nutritional intake in a journal to understand what works in specific conditions. First, write down everything eaten for a week and calculate the findings. Additionally, athletes should journal how they feel and how they performance daily to see how nutrition may have affected both. Then, assess and calculate a new program according to the guidelines and repeat for 7 days to compare.
If target goals are not on track after 2 weeks, reassess program logistics. This is the only way to truly gauge progress. The more athletes track and log, the easier it will become to adjust and accept the new program and be the most effective in performance.
Remember these 5 rules:
- No or nominal caffeine.
- Sleep at least 7 hours each night.
- Eat 5-7 times per day.
- Drink as much water as possible all day.
- Make nutrition a priority.
We are all fallible human beings and creatures of habit and comfort. We all make mistakes and have poor judgment at times. The objective is to be consistent and learn, grow and gain strength — not to focus on perfection.
Nutrition plays a vital role in the health and success of our athletes. Look for our upcoming newsletters “Macronutrients – Feed Your Body for Greatness” and “Genetics and Nutrition.”
Note: Participants should always consult their physician or certified/licensed specialist before beginning any nutritional program. The above information is not a prescription or intended to cure, treat or relieve any problematic symptoms and/or health-related issues. The information was written by a weight management consultant and wellness expert and was influenced and co-written by dietitians and nutritionists.