Proper eating boosts athletic achievement

  • Published
  • By Kristen David
  • Health Promotion Program Dietician

Performance nutrition is a hot topic, with much information out there on the web about what athletes or exercise enthusiasts should or should not eat to help them increase their performance level.

Performance nutrition can be very complex and individualized to the specific person. However, a few basic components should start as the foundation for your sports nutrition diet and lifestyle. 

To start with, know your carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are the main source of energy for your body to function properly.

During the day, focus primarily on complex carbohydrates. These are foods higher in fiber.

Examples include vegetables, beans, brown rice, whole grain bread and quinoa. Fiber takes longer to digest, giving your body longer-lasting energy to get you through your day and a tough workout. How many carbohydrates you need depends on your activity level and goals.

Simple carbohydrates are foods that do not contain as much fiber, and are more rapidly absorbed. These should be consumed in moderation, but can play a crucial part in certain types of exercise, such as marathons.

Next, understand your protein intake. Protein is essential for muscle recovery.

When you are exercising hard, your body breaks down muscle tissue and needs to be repaired by the amino acids found in protein.

You need to eat protein throughout the day with each meal, but make sure you are not over doing it. Consuming too much protein can lead to unhealthy weight gain and dehydration, both of which would negatively impact your performance.

Make sure you choose healthy fats and eat omega 3 fatty acids.

When you exercise, muscle damage occurs. That leads to inflammation.

Omega-3 fatty acids are needed to help regulate and decrease inflammation in your body. Foods that contain omega 3 fatty acids include flaxseed oil, seeds, fatty fish, mollusks, grape leaves, capers, beans, squash and kiwifruit.

When you eat is just as important as what you eat.

Before a workout, you should eat something that has healthy complex carbohydrates, to help give you the push you need to get through the workout. You don’t need to eat during a workout if it is about 60 minutes or less.

However, for high-intensity workouts lasting longer than an hour, for example, a long-distance run, you should consume something with simple carbohydrates about every 30 minutes. This will quickly give your muscles the fuel they need to keep going.

Examples include raisins, a banana, an energy bar or a sports drink.

Within two hours after a workout, you should consume something rich in protein and complex carbohydrates. During this time is when your muscle tissues go into what is called the “anabolic phase,” which means “building up” your muscle tissue.

So it is crucial to recover within this window, not only with protein to help repair damaged muscle, but healthy carbohydrates as well to replenish carbohydrate stores in muscle. The ratio of protein to carbohydrates should be about 1-to-3.

Last but not least is hydration. You need to stay hydrated throughout the day, but also during your workout.

Drinking fluid during exercise is highly individualized and dependent on your own “sweat rate.” However, a good rule of thumb is to consume between 7 and 10 ounces of water every 10-20 minutes during exercise.

Remember, you can stick with water if your exercise is 60 minutes or less. After that, you may want to consider a sports drink to replenish electrolytes and carbohydrates that have been lost.

Following your workout, make sure to consume at least 8 ounces of water within 30 minutes.

Performance nutrition is very individualized depending on the athlete’s weight, height, age, type of sport, training phase and goals. Contacting a sports dietitian will provide you with more information for you as an individual.

Understanding the basics will get you on the right track for success!