Sports Nutrition: General
If you participate regularly in sporting activities you should be constantly aware of what you are eating and drinking to not only maintain your health but also to improve your performance. Although a healthy, balanced diet is important to all of us, to a sportsperson it has a direct impact upon their ability to train, to compete and to recover.
A Healthy DietCarbohydrates, which are not rich in starch, should make up around two-thirds of an athlete’s diet, about 10% should be protein-based from things like meat, poultry and fish with the remainder deriving from unsaturated fats, fruit and vegetables. The energy levels of an athlete much depend on a healthy intake of carbohydrates and fats, in addition to taking lots of fluids on board to keep your body’s temperature regulated. If you fail to do this, not only will you suffer from fatigue but your performance will be diminished as a direct consequence.
It’s estimated that your natural energy reserves can take an hour to recover just 5% after intense physical activity which means that it can take up to 20 hours, or almost a day, to recover completely. Therefore, you should try and eat some carbohydrate based meal within an hour or two of vigorous exercise or, if you can’t face eating that soon, you can substitute food with a healthy sports based drink containing sucrose or glucose.
Whilst carbohydrates are essential to an athlete’s diet, it’s important to eat the right ones. Potatoes are full of starch whereas brown rice or pasta and whole grain bread are preferable. Too much carbohydrate, however, can cause your body to retain water and can increase body weight. And remember to keep well hydrated with plenty of water as you can easily become dehydrated due to sweating as a result of exercise.
Before CompetitionJust as you will have perfected your training regime so that it’s aligned to the actual time you perform in competition, so to should your food regime.
Your diet before competing should consist of the familiar carbohydrates, fibre-rich food and plenty of fluids although the specifics of what you eat and the time you choose to eat will vary from person to person.
In general, a larger meal takes around 4 hours to digest, a smaller one 2 to 3 hours and a snack, maybe an hour or two but this will vary and can often differ significantly as nerves and adrenalin can play a part too. What you specifically choose to eat will also vary depending on the length and intensity of the activity you’re participating in.
Many athletes tend to have something like a chicken and pasta based meal a few hours before the event and will often supplement that with things such as bananas and other fresh fruit closer to competition time which often helps to prevent stomach cramps.
Dangers of Supplements and Unhealthy Eating HabitsFor most athletes, sport is all about winning and such is the emphasis on winning that some athletes will do whatever it takes to win, even if that’s at the detriment to their own health.
Steroids and other supplements which aim to bulk you up and enhance performance can not only be dangerous but are also illegal in many sports. Other sports, such as horse racing and boxing, for example place a heavy burden on an athlete’s ability to maintain an intense degree of control on their weight and this can have disastrous consequences if not managed carefully with dehydration, under-nourishment, bulimia and anorexia becoming real dangers so it’s important to seek proper dietary advice about your particular sport and to follow that advice carefully.
In essence, however, it’s all about eating a healthy balanced diet and keeping well hydrated. Remember your ‘5 a day’ fruit and vegetables too and seek advice from your coach or a sports dietician if you’re in any doubt about what you should eat and when.