What you eat and drink is just as important as how hard you train when it comes to sports performance. But just as a training program needs to be specific to your needs, so must a sports nutrition plan – to help you perform your best and grow stronger.
Nutrient requirements vary based on your size, sport and how often you participate. Consulting with a nutritionist or sports dietitian is the best way to develop a tailored plan for your needs and activity; however, all programs include some basics.
“Macronutrients” refers to the big three components of food: fat, carbohydrates and protein. Everyone should keep fats limited and aim to eat more unsaturated, healthy fats than saturated fats. Opt for nuts, unrefined oils, seeds and lean meats like chicken or fish.
Carbohydrates are what give you energy, and protein helps repair and build muscle. It’s a myth that all athletes should follow a high-protein, low-carb diet. Your muscles need stored glucose, which is provided by carbohydrate, for sustained energy and peak athletic performance. How much carbohydrates and protein you need depends upon the sport you play, and sometimes even by the position you play in that sport. For example, endurance sport athletes need a bit more carbohydrates for sustained energy, and a more modest level of protein. Athletes in power sports need more protein and a moderate amount of carbohydrates
Protein is one of the main nutrients you hear about when it comes to sports — but that doesn’t mean you should guzzle a protein shake for every meal, or fill your plate with meats. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics reports that many nutrition experts say athletes should consume 1.2 to 2 grams of protein per kilogram (roughly .55 to .9 grams per pound) of body weight every day. Protein intake should be spread throughout the day and can come from both plant and animal sources.
The International Olympic Committee recommends that athletes consume 15 to 25 grams of protein within two hours after a training session for optimal results and muscle repair. We suggest eating a well-balanced meal containing a lean protein, quality carbohydrate such as brown rice or a vegetable and a healthy fat three to four hours before training or a match. Also, sweet potatoes provide great fuel for a workout. Grilled chicken salad with fruit and dark, leafy greens is a good recovery option.
Mix in micronutrients
Micronutrients refers to all the other vitamins and minerals you need. Athletes should make sure they get plenty of calcium and vitamin D, along with iron, B vitamins, zinc and magnesium. These can come from various whole food sources as well as quality supplements.
Bring it all together
You can get adequate sports nutrition mostly through diet alone. Supplements or shakes are helpful when you’re pressed for time, but eating whole foods is always best. Keep these tips in mind when planning your balanced diet:
For macronutrients, choose lean meat, whole grains, and lots of fruits and vegetables. You don’t have to eat just meat to fulfill your protein needs; many top athletes are vegetarian or follow a plant-based diet.
Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables. These provide you with micronutrients, antioxidants and essential carbohydrates. Limit red meat, and opt for low-fat dairy products.
Some great foods for fuel include oatmeal, Greek yogurt, nuts, bananas, salmon, eggs, oranges and flaxseed. Try combining these ingredients in your meals and snacks.
Wash it down
What you drink is also important. Drinking water throughout the day is the best way to stay hydrated. Low sugar sports drinks can be helpful in replenishing electrolytes and carbohydrate lost during exercise, but many foods contain the same nutrients. If you sweat a lot during play, look for drinks that provide salt and potassium.
Training hard requires you to have a well-planned diet to make sure your food is meeting your body’s needs for energy and recovery. Food is your foundation for all levels of activity, and especially for peak performance. A nutritionist can provide guidance to your sport and based on your eating preferences to help you achieve the best performance.
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