Part #1: Proper Nutrition
Proper nutrition for athletes is one of the most important training factors and should be included in the foundation of a well-planned, comprehensive sports performance enhancement program.
Research shows that most injuries occur in the last 20 minutes of practice or a game, which is typically when fatigue increases. What this means is that without the proper nutrition for athletes prior to and during competition, the body will run out of fuel and shut down, regardless of how well the athlete is trained from a physical standpoint.
Besides improper training preparation (specific conditioning and sports fitness, which is also known as energy system development), a decreased level of carbohydrate intake is one of the main factors responsible for the onset of fatigue.
Here are a few pre, during, and post exercise nutrition tips:
- 1 – 4 hours prior to exercise, athletes should consume meals that are high in carbohydrates, moderate in protein, low in fat, and adequate in fluids and energy. This type of meal will provide glucose, prevent dehydration, and delay fatigue.
- In the hour prior to exercise, the focus narrows to carbohydrate and fluid intake.
- The amount of food consumed is determined by the amount of time before the exercise begins. Smaller meals are eaten closer to an athletes starting time, and larger meals are eaten when there is more time for the meal to be digested. The athlete can set the stage for good performance by consuming the right amount of food and fluid at the right time.
When fueling up for longer workouts make sure to consume a small amount of protein, soluble fiber, and fat. This will help slow the rate at which carbohydrate will be realized into the blood stream, there by allowing its energy being spread over a longer period of time. Simply put this approach will increase endurance.
Recommendations for food and fluid intake during training or performance depend on the sport. The intensity of exercise, the amount of gastrointestinal distress, and the demands of high environmental temperatures and humidity are some of the reasons that food and fluid intake falls short.
For athletes who engage in prolonged exercise in the heat, carbohydrate, fluid, and electrolyte intake is absolutely critical for performance and health.
A great homemade Gatorade to satisfy your carbohydrate, fluid, and electrolyte needs can be made by combining 1:1 real fruit juice to filtered water, and adding a pinch of sea salt.
One of the most important factors in muscle glycogen resynthesis (replacing energy stores in the muscles) is the consumption of carbohydrate immediately after exercise. The consumption of some protein at this time is also beneficial.
Within the first hour after exercise at least 1 gram of carbohydrate per kilogram of body weight should be consumed. This means if you weight 150 pounds, you should be consuming roughly 68 grams of carbohydrates post workout (the equivalent of about 1 ½ cups cooked quinoa, 1 ¾ cups long-grain brown rice, or about 1 large sweet potato). Although we have it listed as a carbohydrate source, quinoa is also a complete protein and can be used as a vegetarian protein source.
Carbohydrate and fluid consumption should continue for at least the next 4 – 6 hours.
Taking a scale weight before and after exercise can help the athlete estimate how much fluid was lost during exercise and determine how much fluid needs to be consumed. Along with weight, monitoring urine color and thirst are simple ways to evaluate current hydration status.