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Sport & exercise - Sports Nutrition

Peak performance for any sport, besides the actual physical effort, also depends on the correct nutrition. Effective training includes supplying and replacing the nutrients, fluid and energy that your body requires to perform at its best. It is also important to help your body to prepare for and recover from any stressors it may be exposed to.

Your nutrition should provide for your individual dietary preferences as well as the energy requirements of your specific sport. For example, the energy requirements of a high intensity intermittent sport, such as squash, will be considerably different from ultra-endurance sports such as an Ironman Triathlon. Your nutrition goals as an athlete may also vary depending on whether you are in a training, competition or recovery phase.

Training, competition and recovery
Although there is no one optimal diet to suit everyone’s sporting needs, here are but a few general guidelines:
  • A good training diet should: provide basic nutritional requirements and any particular sport-specific needs, achieve and maintain an appropriate body weight and body composition of an athlete and promote their recovery between training sessions, provide consistency between your training diet and your competition diet. Aim to go into your competition with adequate carbohydrate fuel stores and plan to supplement additional carbohydrates during prolonged activity.
  • Hydration and exercise; Recently, the American College of Sports Medicine has accepted some new guidelines pertaining to hydration during sport. These were written by Prof. Tim Noakes and indicate that more athletes may actually be suffering from hyponatraemia or water overload during exercise than dehydration. In fact, those athletes who are slightly dehydrated may actually enhance their performance. This is not to say that athletes should not drink during exercise. Instead, they should drink when they feel thirsty. Old guidelines did not take into account gender; body weight, climatic conditions or sport specific exertion levels and gave only a large quantity of water to drink.
  • Recovery; Recovery is important for the regeneration and repair of damaged tissue that may have occurred during training. Nutrition is extremely important in the post-exercise recovery phase, especially if you have less then 6-24 hours recovery time between strenuous training sessions and/or competitive events. This may occur in a situation where there are heats and a final in one day. The aim of a recovery diet is to restore muscle and liver glycogen that has been utilised and to replace fluid and electrolytes lost in sweat.
  • Psychological factors and stress; may affect your competition nutrition. Post-exercise fatigue and loss of appetite following high intensity exercise is common. Nevertheless, it should be stressed that for speedy muscle glycogen recovery, carbohydrates like glucose-based sports drinks and tropical fruits should be consumed within the 2-hour post-exercise window. Avoid consuming that celebratory alcoholic beverage immediately after competition as it will only cause dehydration and slow down the rate at which your body will recover!
If you have time constraints and travel commitments, it is important to implement strategies such as fortifying foods (with carbohydrate powders or skim milk powder), having appropriate portable food options at hand, and having a sound knowledge of correct food choices when eating in restaurants and ordering take-aways. Try to eat foods that are not too high in fat and avoid those that you know cause you gastrointestinal discomfort.

What are an athlete’s specific nutritional needs?
As an athlete you should aim to follow a healthy eating plan giving extra emphasis to the total food intake so that you are able to meet the needs of your higher energy requirements.

The daily carbohydrate needs of athletes vary between 5 and 10g carbohydrate/kg body weight per day depending on the type of exercise and the time spent exercising. Concentrated carbohydrate sources like sports drinks, sports bars, compact high sugar foods, liquid meal supplements and carbo-loading supplements are useful when carbo-loading. Classic carbohydrate-loading techniques have been replaced by the "loaf-load" regime. This involves at least 3 days of intake (8-10g carbohydrate/kg body weight per day) and a week of tapered workouts ending in a complete rest day before competition. During the last day before competition one should try and return to a normal eating pattern. However, cut out any food substances in your normal daily diet that may cause gastrointestinal disturbances.

Examples of foods providing 50g carbohydrate:

Grains Vegetables and Legumes
3 thick slices bread
10 Provita or snackbreads
1 cup pasta
1 heaped cup brown rice
2 cups bran flakes 1 cup baked beans
3 1/3 cups peas/carrots/butternut/mixed veg
3 medium potatoes
1 cup sweet potato

Fruit Dairy
3 medium pieces of fruit
3½ tablespoons raisins
2 cups (500ml) fruit juice 4 cups skim or low fat milk/buttermilk
350ml low fat flavored drinking yoghurt
250ml fruit yoghurt

Sports products, sugars and sweet
12 ½ teaspoons sugar
60g jelly babies
10 Super C’s
1 Energy Bar
50g Glucose polymer powder (e.g. Energade)
350ml Sustagen Sport (with skim milk)
3 cups (740ml) Energade (6.8%)
2 cups (500ml) Coke or soft drink

Our protein needs are between 1.2 - 2g protein/kg body weight/day and these, unlike the volume of carbohydrate needed, are easily met on a well balanced diet. The exception may be some vegetarians or those who are eating a low calorie diet. In these cases, protein can be supplemented through the addition of skim milk or skim milk powder to meals and by consuming additional egg white, perhaps through an eggnog drink.

Expensive protein powders may not be the answer either since excessive dietary protein is stored as fat or broken down. Neither of these is desirable, especially as the process to remove amino acids (broken-down proteins) from the system increases the risk of dehydration.

Fat should only provide the balance of energy needs once the carbohydrate and protein requirements have been calculated. Fats should contribute a maximum of 30% of total energy per day. Reasons for limiting fat include the fact that fat is calorie dense, stimulates a desire for more fatty foods and is easily converted to fat and therefore can markedly influence body weight. Saturated fat is also associated with chronic diseases of lifestyle such as heart disease.

Vitamins & Minerals
Micronutrient supplementation for athletes remains controversial. For athletes with micronutrient deficiencies, for example, under-eaters or chronic low fat high carbohydrate eaters, supplementation may improve performance. There is no scientific evidence to support the use of supplementation to try and improve performance. The random use or overuse of supplements can actually have side effects such as gastrointestinal disturbances.

This information provides you with a general and basic introduction to optimising your nutrition. If you would like to determine your individual sporting nutrition requirements, we recommend that you contact a Registered Dietician who is trained in sports nutrition. The author of this article, does not guaranty and or assure of any success rate and or failure rate with diet and sporting achievements.

Name: Mohinder Pal Singh
City: Kraków
Country: Poland
Date: August 21, 2011