by: Meredith Terranova of Eating and Living Healthy
Athletes, and all active people, should not underestimate the importance of good nutrition. A well-planned, well-balanced diet can optimize athletic performance, delay fatigue and aid recovery. Good nutrition should be a priority and a part of any training regime.
An athlete’s diet should be similar to that which is recommended to the general population in terms contribution to energy (55% carb, 12-15% protein, less than 30% fat). Athletes who exercise strenuously for more than 60 to 90 minutes daily, however, may benefit from increasing the amount of energy that they derive from carbohydrate (60-65% carb and less than 20% fat).
Carbohydrates: Carbohydrate-rich foods, especially complex carbohydrates (leafy green vegetables, whole grains, and legumes), should form the basis of the diet. They are important for building glycogen stores in the muscle and liver. Glycogen is the most important fuel/energy source for the body. When you are exercising during activities lasting longer than one-hour muscle glycogen depletes, but the consumption of carbohydrates serves to maintain proper levels of blood glucose (insulin) and delays the onset of fatigue.
For optimal storage of glycogen, an athlete should aim to consume between 7-10g of carbohydrate per kilogram of body weight per day. If carbohydrate is restricted, a poor exercise capacity will result from poor glycogen stores in the muscles and liver. A low-carbohydrate diet leads to a loss of protein tissue (and therefore muscle), as well as urinary loss of essential ions, such as potassium. Such eating regimes should therefore be avoided due to their detrimental impact on sporting performance.
Protein: Protein is an important part of a training diet (even though it is a limited source of energy for exercise less than 2 hours) because it plays a key role in post-exercise recovery and repair. Protein needs are generally met when following a high-carbohydrate diet, because many foods, especially complex carbohydrates, are a combination of carbohydrate and protein.
Fat: Fat provides limited fuel for workouts, helps manufacture hormones and nerve cells, and carries and absorbs the fat soluble vitamins A, D, E, K. Athletes should strive for a diet consisting of no more than 20-25% total calories from fat.
Hydration: Water is our most common deficiency. You may not need other nutrients during a 60-minute workout, but you will always need water. Thirst means you’re already beginning a state of dehydration, and once dehydrated it can take as long as 48 hours to rehydrate effectively. Electrolytes, sodium, chloride, potassium, and magnesium are almost as important to consume as water. Electrolytes help regulate water balance and retention through regulation of thirst and salt appetite mechanisms in your brain.
With all of this being said, have I just opened the gate for a full-time carbo-loading diet? – NO! It is important to remember that even though you may be doing more activity than you ever have, calories still count and taking in more than you are burning will still cause you to gain weight – all of these fuels in excess turn to fat, and that is unfortunately not the fuel source that our body goes to first to burn!
Remember to keep your diet in moderation and in balance, stay hydrated, and enjoy discovering what works for you!