Sports is very demanding. A wicketkeeper in Cricket does a minimum of 540 squats in a single day of a test match. Tennis involves the repetitive movement of wrists. Golf requires a lot of bending & lifting and during an intense training session, the body’s muscle work rate can increase more than 25 times.
An athlete’s body is a machine and in order to make this machine work properly they need to put in the right fuel (food). And herein lies the essence of sports nutrition.
Understanding the basics of sports nutrition
The human body is made up of water, muscles, fat & bones. The perfect balance of all these components will help enhance an athlete’s performance. Fueling source of these components are divided into macronutrients, micronutrients & hydration.
Macronutrients consist of Carbohydrates, Proteins & Fats. Carbs are the main source of energy to the body. Our digestive system breaks down carbs into glucose which feeds energy to our cells, organs & tissues in the body.
There are 2 types of Carbs: Simple & Complex. Simple carbs can be broken down quickly by the body to be used as energy. Milk, fruits and milk products are sources of simple carbs. Complex carbs do not get broken down quickly and keep providing regulated energy throughout the day. Whole grain bread, potatoes, peas, fibre rich fruits like apple are sources of complex carbs.
Important intake of Proteins
Protein provides with amino acids which are used by muscles to rebuild themselves. It aids in muscle recovery. Meat & fish are non-veg protein sources, whereas field beans, green gram dal & rajma are excellent vegetarian sources of protein.
Fats help in maintaining energy levels
Fats are another source of energy and help in maintaining energy levels during exercise. It also helps in maintaining cell membranes & protecting body organs.
Fats again can be of two types: Saturated & Un Saturated. Saturated fats come from animals and high-fat dairy products. Avocados, olive oil, nuts & seeds are sources of unsaturated fats.
Micronutrients are minerals & vitamins which help catalyze the process of macronutrients. Vitamins B complex, C, D and E are important for athletes. Vitamin C is crucial for collagen synthesis, Vitamin D helps build stronger bones & Vitamin E prevents muscle breakdown. Minerals like calcium, iron & phosphorous are required in muscle building, while sodium, magnesium & potassium provide necessary electrolytes.
Also Read: The What, Why and How of Sports Psychology
Importance of Hydration
Apart from Macro & Micronutrients, hydration is an integral part of sports nutrition. Adequate hydration is essential for sports performance. The human body is up to 60% of water. The human brain alone is 73% water and the lungs are 83% water. A 2% loss of water results in a 25-30% drop in human performance.
At QUA Nutrition are very cautious on the use of supplements. Proper DIET is the first solution to creating power and winning in an athlete’s body. Supplements represent the second solution when done in proper consultation with a good sports nutritionist.
The right way to eat for performance
Athletes need to meticulously plan their foods intake over the course of a day and should follow a structured approach for eating pre, during & post workout.
Fueling right before the workout will ensure that the body is getting the necessary nutrients for energy and strength, to enhance the performance. For fueling, body utilizes the glucose from carbs and stores it in the form of glycogen. Muscles glycogen reservoir is limited and when depleted it affects the performance. Carbs intake in the right quantity can help to increase glycogen stores.
Protein before a workout helps to increase muscle protein synthesis which equips your body for the workout stresses and increases performance & recovery. If your workout schedule stretches to long hours then adding fats in your diet would be the smart choice. Eggs, Broccoli, Paneer, yoghurt, apple, berries & brown rice are some of the excellent pre-workout foods. Low glycemic foods will help in the slower release of the energy.
During workout nutrition
Hydration in between your work out is the key to maintain the performance rate. The right method of fueling during exercises will depend on sports, type & duration of the exercise. For shorter duration exercise of upto 45 mins, fluids intake would just be sufficient. For longer duration exercise of 1-2 hrs, an athlete should eat 30gms-60gms carbs/hr. Bananas, raisins & sports drink can be consumed during exercise.
Post workout nutrition
During exercise, the muscles glycogen level gets depleted and muscles get broken down. Post exercise the body tries to increase the glycogen stores in the body and repairs the muscle. The right nutrients post-exercise can help the body to do this in a relatively quicker time thereby aiding in recovery time.
The protein-rich foods will give amino acids to the body which will help to rebuild and repair the muscles. Similarly, carbs will help in restoring glycogen levels. Consuming carbs & protein in 3:1 ratio will improve glycogen storage and muscle protein synthesis.
Ways to maintain hydration & electrolyte balance
- Utilize every opportunity to consume sufficient fluids
- Drink 200- 500 ml of water 2 to 4 hours before your practice
- Consume fluids in the form of water, juice, milk, coconut water, lemonade, etc.
- Sports drinks are not necessary (unless advised in your Sports Nutrition Plan). Add 1/4-1/2 tsp salt to each 1 litre of water
- Add salt to the diet to prevent sodium deficiency & maintain or restore hydration
- Have a big glass of milk or healthy milkshake to boost your recovery
Common mistakes that athletes commit
Most commonly, athletes commit the mistake of either choosing the wrong food or the wrong time.
Sports Nutrition cautionary measures
It is recommended not to consume a heavy meal prior to your game.
A heavy meal can be consumed an hour before your game OR If having a snack, have it 1/2 an hour before the game.
During exercise caution
Intake of solid foods which can slow down the digestion process and create discomfort.
Consume 15 – 25g of carbohydrates. Consume a snack or meal containing 1 –1.5g of protein/kg body weight in the first 30 minutes & again every 2 hrs for 4-6 hrs. Chocolate milkshake is a perfect recovery drink. Have it within 15 mins of completion of the exercise.
High GI foods help in refuelling reserves quickly to compensate for the loss of muscle glycogen during moderate and high-intensity exercise.
Foods that athletes should avoid
Sugary food: Consumption of fruit juices or beverages with a high sugar content of 10% damages an athlete’s performance during play.
Caffeine: Because of its dehydrating effects. Limited intake is advised.
Energy drinks: Can cause inflammation, organ stress & hormonal imbalance. It contains artificial sweetener & preservatives that cause internal damage & increases the risk of cardiovascular damage.
Processed foods: Offer no nutrient support & carries toxic fat which can be dangerous to the internal system.
Alcohol: Slows down reaction time, increases risk of injury, causes dehydration & decreases the performance output.
How can athletes ensure nutritional balance in the diet
Individual needs are different. You cannot just simply copy Sushil Kumar’s diet plan and win an Olympic medal. The nutritional plan needs to be customized based on an individual’s body chemistry & goals.
Gives a clear indication of how the system is working and whether an imbalance exists. Addressing nutritional deficiencies can help prevent tissue injury and increase the athlete’s efficiency.
Track physical activity
Every game is different. A sprint swimmer requires different calories as compared to endurance swimmer. The nutrition needs should be balanced based on the nature, duration and load of the activity.
You have been gifted certain genes by your parents that you cannot change. But knowing how your genes behave; can help you identify your stronger and weaker areas. You might be prone to injury and thus your training schedule and nutrition plan should need to be designed accordingly.
Novak Djokovic’s genes do not support gluten. Result- he is completely off from wheat products & look at how he is conquering the world tennis now.
Consult an expert
Many athletes do mistake of following unsolicited advice from their coaches, fellow colleagues and worst of all from Google. None of them can make the athlete fuel correctly to be a CHAMPION.
Consult an expert sports nutritionist who can understand your biochemistry, genes, activity levels, dietary habits, cultural background, and areas of improvement, goals & objectives and can customize a diet plan which caters to your specific needs.
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