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As an athlete, what you put into your body is of the utmost importance. Good nutrition is important for everyone, but athletes in particular can feel firsthand how not eating properly can affect performance. An athlete’s need for good quality calories are far greater than the average person, depending on quite a few factors (height, weight, gender, body composition, activity level, etc). If you’re an athlete who lets good nutrition fall down on the priority list, consider the ways it can impact both your performance and health.

 Energy/Performance

Carbohydrates, protein and healthy fats provide the fuel needed to maintain energy. Carbohydrates are involved in regulating your blood sugar and glycogen level in your muscles, which is vital for preventing muscle fatigue. While watching fat intake is important, severely restricting it from your diet is unwise. Fat provides essential fatty acids, and your body uses it as an energy source, particularly if your activity lasts longer than an hour. Protein helps build new tissue and is also used as an energy source. Your need for protein is higher if you’re involved in a performance program (strength and/or speed program).

Weight Control/Body Composition

Good nutrition is also vital to maintaining a healthy weight. Weight can be a sensitive issue in athletics, especially for females. If you need to lose weight, severely restricting calories, protein or fat is not only dangerous for your body but also negatively impacts your athletic performance. Eating vegetables, fruits, whole grains and legumes to get essential nutrients are important. Lean protein sources and low-fat dairy foods are good options. Working with a registered dietician can help you identify any unhealthy food behaviors and create an eating plan that addresses your unique needs.

 Hydration

Staying hydrated is vital when you’re working out or participating in sports. Not maintaining fluid balance in your body affects performance and puts you at risk for the effects of dehydration. Water provides musculoskeletal lubrication as well as helps to transport nutrients throughout your body. Dehydration can occur in any environment, but it’s a major concern if you’re engaged in physical activity in hot or humid conditions. Water is the usual go-to source for staying hydrated, but if you’re engaged in intense activity for an hour or more, drinking a sports drink is advisable to replace lost electrolytes.

 

 Win or lose, your mind is likely not on nutritional intake after a game or competition. Yet making it a priority is of the utmost importance, especially if you’re not meeting energy or fluid needs during game or competition. Most athletes don’t consume enough fluids during competition, so restoring balance post-game or competition is huge. Eating a small meal containing carbs, fat and protein within 30 minutes of competition is ideal but may be an unrealistic commitment. If this is the case, something as simple as eating apples, bananas, or chocolate milk will be very beneficial to the athlete refueling /recovery process.

Be informed about fueling the body, sports nutrition, making healthier decisions that will affect your athletic performance not only physically, but mentally as well.

 

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