Athletes spend numerous hours physically training their body. However, very few spend adequate time learning how to fuel their body effectively to maximize this training for peak performance. Teaching kids, teens and adults to fuel their body correctly can provide greater energy, well balanced blood sugar, stronger muscles, a sharper mind and longer lasting endurance.
Here are some basic nutrition guidelines to give you the EDGE in your activity or sport:
Energy from carbohydrates –Carbohydrates provide athletes with an immediate source of fuel by filling glycogen stores with energy. Choose complex carbohydrates such as vegetables or whole grains found in brown rice, oatmeal, whole wheat bread. Whole grains help to stabilize blood sugar levels and minimize blood sugar swings due to their fiber content. Simple carbohydrates found in foods such as white breads and flours, white rice, fruit drinks, soda and cookies contain little fiber speeding their absorption into the bloodstream. Sugary foods eaten before an event may hinder performance triggering an insulin surge leading to a sharp drop in blood sugar after about 30 minutes of consumption. This drop can lead to fatigue, nausea and dehydration. Carbohydrates are an important source of fuel, but they’re only one of several kinds of foods an athlete needs. Consuming carbohydrates along with protein sources such as cheese, seeds, nut butters or lean meats help to maintain balanced blood sugar.
Don’t forget the protein – Protein provides longer lasting fuel for your body during a sporting event than carbohydrates, and is necessary to help heal microscopic muscle tears that occur during strenuous exercise. Protein is stored in muscle tissue and the liver, and is used upon depletion of glycogen and fat stores. Protein should be consumed at each snack and meal. Note that too much animal protein will over work the kidneys thus affecting breathing capacity. Your muscles need protein to be strong. However, too much protein can cause excessive urine output which can contribute to dehydration problems or a full bladder during your activity. Moderation is the goal.
Good, healthy fats for a sharp mind – An athlete’s mind is fueled by the foods he/she eats in the days and hours before an athletic event. The brain craves nutrients found in healthy fats (fatty acids) found in olive oil, fish and fish oil, nuts, seeds, avocado and olives. Healthy fats should be consumed in a limited quantity the day of the sporting event but are essential for a sharp mind during the event. Healthy fats supply the second line of fuel for the body. You need a little, but not too much. If a sporting event lasts more than an hour, the body may use mostly fats for energy. Unhealthy fats to avoid include ice cream, fried foods, animal fat, and hydrogenated oils. They may slow your performance and increase your risk of injury.
Endurance from hydration - Water is often pushed aside in favor of the more flavorful sports drinks but is still the top priority for athletic endurance. Drink 1-2 cups of water ½ hour prior to exercise and, if possible, ½ to 1 cups of cold water every 20-30 minutes throughout exercise. Cold water is absorbed faster by the body than warmer water and helps to lower body temperature more quickly. Drink before you feel thirsty – if you’re thirsty, you’re already dehydrated. Hydrate your body well in the days before an event as dehydration can cause muscle cramping and fatigue. A 1%-2% reduction of water from your body weight can reduce performance by 15%-25%! Strenuous exercise lasting more than 90 minutes, or in really hot weather, requires an electrolyte replacement drink or food. A few orange slices or half a banana (well chewed) at half-time will also help replenish electrolyte stores necessary for endurance. My personal recommendation is to dilute your sports drink to 50% water/50% electrolyte drink. So called “energy drinks” contain high amounts of sugar and caffeine which can hinder your athletic performance and deplete your energy.
* Iron – Iron carries oxygen to the muscles. Most athletes benefit from consuming foods with high iron content. Green leafy salads, spinach and lean meats are critical for healthy bodies and peak athletic performance. Athletes require extra protein for muscle repair and building. Red meat should not be consumed during tournaments or around game time, but the iron derived from a piece of red meat will help to increase iron stores in the body. Athletes can eat red meat, just not close to the athletic event.
* Calcium - Calcium protects against stress fractures building strong bones all athletes depend on. Be sure to include dairy foods regularly unless you have a cold or sinus troubles, as dairy foods may increase mucus production. Osteoporosis is a weakening of the bones due to density loss in the bones. This condition can ruin an athlete’s career because it can lead to fractures and other injuries. Not getting enough calcium during the child/teen years can have a lasting effect on how strong bones are later in life.
The foods we eat affect our performance in any activity we do throughout the day. Eating well can help reduce the risk of injury and illness, improve recovery time between workouts and provide confidence and strength for giving the athlete an edge.
Attainable Nutrition in Parker, Colorado provides nutrition education for individuals and athletic teams looking to improve their athletic performance.
For more information visit our Sports Nutrition page at www.attainablenutrition.com .