Athlete’s Guide Winning Nutrition
Whether you train for competitive sports, or work out for your own good health or just for fun, what you eat and drink—and when—is part of your formula for athletic success. Good nutrition can’t replace training, effort, talent, and personal drive. But there’s no question that what you eat and drink over time makes a difference when your goal is peak performance or your personal best.
Why athletes should eat healthily?
Nutrition is fundamental to your peak physical performance. To put in your best effort, you need the same nutrients as nonathletes: carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins, minerals, and water. If you’re highly active, you may need slightly more of some nutrients.
What are the major differences in your nutrient needs? To replace ﬂuid losses, athletes need more ﬂuids to stay hydrated during high activity. And working muscles need more energy-supplying nutrients, especially carbohydrates.
Do you drink plenty of water without overdrinking? Your physical endurance and strength depend on it! When you’re physically active, you lose ﬂuids as sweat evaporates from your skin. As you breathe, often heavily, you exhale moisture, too. A 150-pound athlete can lose 11⁄2 quarts, or 3 pounds, of ﬂuid in just one hour. That equals six 8-ounce glasses of water. With heavy training, ﬂuid loss can be higher. To avoid dehydration you need to replace the ﬂuids you lose.
What happens when an athlete doesn’t eat enough?
What’s the risk if you begin physical activity even slightly dehydrated, or lose too much ﬂuid while you’re active? Even small losses of 1 percent of your body weight may hinder your physical performance, particularly during warm weather. Losing more than 1 percent is a known detriment. (That’s about 2 or 3 pounds for a 150-pound person.)
Now score yourself:
Fact: To avoid dehydration, everyone—even well- trained athletes—needs to stay hydrated before, during, and after physical activity. Besides water, sports drinks are an option. Training won’t protect you from dehydration!
Fact: Vitamins don’t supply energy; carbohydrates, fats, and proteins do. If you’re already following the advice of MyPyramid and eating enough to meet your energy needs, there’s no reason for vitamin supplements. The small number of extra vitamins— for example, B vitamins—you need to produce extra energy from carbohydrates, fats, and proteins come from extra amounts of nutrient-rich food- group foods.
Fact: A high-carbohydrate meal is the best precompetition meal. It supplies the primary fuel for working muscles. Although a steak dinner may taste great, the fats and proteins in steak take longer to digest than carbohydrates do.
Fact: Fasting is never advised for athletes! It often causes fatigue, reduced glycogen stores (the storage form of carbohydrate in muscles and the liver), the potential for muscle loss, dehydration, and decreased performance. For young athletes, fasting keeps them from consuming nutrients essential to their growth and development.
Fact: Although a lean, muscular body may enhance health and athletic performance, you can be too lean. Among its many functions, fat cushions body organs, providing protection from injury. During endurance sports (running, cycling, swimming), both carbohydrate and fat provide energy for working muscles. If you’re too lean, you may tire too quickly. And restricting energy intake too much to avoid body fat may create a nutrient deﬁciency.
Why do athletes drink milk?
Fact: Contrary to the popular myth, drinking milk before physical exertion doesn’t cause stomach discomfort or digestive problems. Besides its role in bone health, calcium is needed for muscle contraction. Whether you choose to drink milk before a heavy workout is a personal matter.
Did You Know
heat stroke, caused by severe dehydration, ranks second among the reported cases of death among high school athletes?
taking extra vitamins or minerals (beyond the Recommended Dietary Allowances) offers no added advantage to athletic performance? A high-carbohydrate diet can boost your endurance?
What foods should an athlete eat?
The “right” pre-event meal or snack differs from athlete to athlete, event to event, and time of day. Du- ing your training, experiment with different foods, food combinations, amounts, and timing.
Timing. Finish eating one to four hours before your workout or competition. That allows enough time for food to digest so you don’t feel full or uncomfortable.
Small meals. Choose a small meal or snack. The amount depends on what makes you feel comfortable.
High “carbs.”Enjoy a high-“carb” meal or snack that’s moderate in protein and low in fat. It gets digested and absorbed faster. (About 1⁄2 gram to 2 grams of carbohydrate per pound of body weight is about right.)
Make pasta, rice, potatoes, or bread the “center” of your plate. A high-fat meal may cause indigestion or nausea with heavy exercise. Contrary to common belief, eating small amounts of fat won’t keep your body from storing muscle glycogen. A little fat adds ﬂavor and helps you meet your overall energy needs.
No discomfort. Skip foods that may cause intestinal discomfort during the competition: gas-causing foods such as beans, cabbage, onions, cauliﬂower, and turnips, and bulky, high-ﬁber foods such as raw fruits and vegetables with seeds and tough skin, bran, nuts, and seeds.
Familiar foods. Enjoy familiar foods and beverages. This isn’t the time to try something new that may disagree with you.
Enough ﬂuids. About two hours ahead, drink at least 2 cups of ﬂuid. Then about ﬁfteen minutes ahead, drink another 1 to 2 cups of ﬂuids. Milk’s okay. Stress and loss of body ﬂuids—not milk—often slow saliva ﬂow, causing “cottonmouth,” or a dry mouth. “Feel-good” foods. If a certain food or meal seems to enhance your performance, enjoy it—if you can ﬁt it into your pre-event eating strategy.
Nourishment now depends on your sport.
During most activities, drinking plenty of ﬂuids is the only real issue. Every ﬁfteen or so minutes, you’re wise to drink enough to minimize loss of body weight, without overdrinking: 1⁄2 to 2 cups every 15 minutes.
During endurance sports of sixty minutes or more, a slightly sweetened carbohydrate drink (sports drink) or snack may help maintain your blood sugar levels, boost your stamina, and enhance your performance. Figure about 0.5 grams of carbohydrate per pound of your body weight per hour. Sports drinks are easy to digest, especially if you’re involved in intense activity. And they count as ﬂuids.
During day-long events or regional tournaments, snack on high-carbohydrate, low-fat foods. Between matches, sets, or other competitive events, these foods are good choices: crackers, bagels, rice cakes, orange slices, apples, bananas, and fruit bars. Bring snacks so you don’t need to rely on a concession stand. Con- summing ﬂuids all day long remains important.Can athletes eat junk food?
after a workout
Make ﬂuids your ﬁrst priority! First and foremost, after competition or a heavy workout, replace your ﬂuid loss. The amount depends on how much weight you lose through exercise. Simply weigh yourself before and afterward; the difference is your water weight. For every pound, you lose, drink 3 cups of ﬂuid. And continue to drink ﬂuids throughout the day or several days until you return to your pre-exercise weight if you lost weight.
What makes an athlete great?
“Energy” Drinks? These drinks typically contain more carbohydrates than commercial sports drinks. Fruit Juice or Soft Drinks? Compared with sports
drinks, sugars in soft drinks and fruit juice are more concentrated: 10 to 15 percent carbohydrate. They aren’t recommended during exercise because of their high sugar content and, for soft drinks, their carbonation. Drinks with a lot of sugar take longer to be absorbed, and they may cause cramps, diarrhea, or nausea. Carbonation can make you feel full and make your throat burn, so you drink less ﬂuid.
You can dilute fruit juice—if you like the ﬂavor. Unlike sports drinks, diluted fruit juice doesn’t provide sodium; depending on how much it’s diluted, it may not contain enough “carbs” to help the athlete.Is spicy food bad for athletes?
if caffeine can boost your physical performance? Maybe—and maybe not. People react to caffeine in different ways. Caffeine does stimulate the central nervous system, so it may help you feel more alert and attentive. And it may enhance your performance. For caffeine-sensitive athletes, caffeine may exacerbate pre-event anxiety and its symptoms. Although caffeine may have a mild diuretic effect that may not last long, non caffeinated beverages are advised when rapid rehydration is needed, perhaps between tournament events. That’s also an issue in hot weather and for endurance athletes. If you enjoy coffee, tea, or soft drinks with caffeine, experiment during training, not competition. A single cup may help—or at least not hinder—your performance. But avoid caffeine tablets or several cups of caffeinated drinks. The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) limits caffeine concentration to no more than 15 micrograms per milliliter of urine. You likely won’t reach this level from caffeine in food (equivalent to seventeen caffeinated, 12-ounce sodas). But athletes who consume three 200-mg caffeine tablets may exceed this limit. Beginning in 2004 the International Olympic Committee no longer prohibited caffeine but monitors caffeine content in urine instead. If you drink caffeinated beverages, drink enough other ﬂuids, too. Despite any mild, short-term diuretic effects of caffeine, caffeinated beverages contribute to total ﬂuid intake. Caffeine doesn’t cause dehydration or electrolyte imbalance. For more about caffeine,
Which Fluids athlete should drink?
What should you drink before, during, and after vigorous activity? Try water, fruit juices, sports drinks, or other beverages. For workouts of less than thirty minutes of continuous activity and recreational walking, sports drinks, juices, and water are good choices. For ﬂuid replacers for other sports, read on. Water: A Good Choice. Water helps lower and normalize your body’s core temperature from inside when you’re hot, and it moves quickly from your digestive tract to your tissues.
Coldwater is a ﬁne choice. Contrary to the popular myth, drinking cold water during exercise doesn’t cause stomach cramps for most athletes; stomach cramps may be caused by dehydration, not by drinking cold water. For outside activity in cold weather, drink water that’s warm or at room temperature to help protect you from hypothermia, or low body temperature. Cool water, preferred by many exercisers, can enhance performance.
Sports Drinks. Sports drinks can benefit some athletes, especially in hot, humid conditions. Sports drinks with 6 to 8 percent carbohydrate (14 to 19 grams of carbohydrate per 8 ounces) may be better than water or diluted fruit juice for ﬂuid replacement. More than 8 percent carbohydrate solution may decrease the rate of fluid absorption and gastric (stomach) emptying.
For activities lasting longer than an hour, try sports drinks. If you’re a long-distance runner or long-distance bicyclist or involved in other endurance events (longer than ninety minutes), sports drinks may offer some performance beneﬁts.
What do athletes drink?
No matter what your sport—running, bicycling, swimming, tennis, even walking and golﬁng—or vigorous activity, drink enough ﬂuid to avoid dehydration. Getting enough isn’t always easy.
Drink plenty of ﬂuids—before, during, and after physical activity. Carry a water bottle in a bottle belt or ﬂuid pack, especially if you have no available water source. Or ﬁnd out where you can get ﬂuids: store, water fountain, others; bring money. Rehydrating yourself after activity helps you recover faster, both physically and mentally.
Drink early and often—but don’t drink too much. Drink ﬂuids on schedule (every ﬁfteen minutes during activity)—even when you don’t feel thirsty. Your thirst mechanism may not send thirst signals when you’re exercising. Thirst is a symptom of dehydration; drink ﬂuids before that happens. Follow the schedule in this
, “For Physical Activity: How Much drink?
Stop drinking if you need ﬂuids. You’ll do more than makeup for any lost time with better performance.
Wear lightweight, loose-ﬁtting clothing that wicks moisture, especially in warm weather. Be aware that fabrics that hold heat—such as tights, bodysuits, heavy gear—as well as helmets and other protective gear, won’t let sweat evaporate.
Replace water weight. Weigh yourself before and after a heavy workout. Your nude weight is best. Wear the same clothing when you weigh yourself—before and after. Replace each pound of weight you lose with 3 cups of water, carbohydrate drink, or other ﬂuid to bring your ﬂuid balance back to normal. And plan to drink more before your active workout next time. If you weigh more after exercise, you drink too much during activity; drink less while exercising next time.
Check the color of your urine. Dark-colored urine indicates dehydration. Drink more ﬂuids, so your urine is pale and nearly colorless before exercising again.
Be especially careful if you exercise intensely in warm, humid weather. Consider how much hotter you feel on humid days. Sweat doesn’t evaporate from your skin quickly, so you don’t get the cooling bene- ﬁts. That’s why on humid days it’s easier to get hyperthermia, or overheated, as you exercise. Hyperthermia can lead to heatstroke, which can be fatal!
Know the signs of dehydration. Some early signs are ﬂushed skin, fatigue, increased body temperature, and faster breathing and pulse rate. Later signs are dizziness, weakness, and labored breathing with exercise.
Drink, rather than simply pour water over your head. Drinking is the only way to rehydrate and cool your body from the inside out.