Nutrition

Athletes who want a winning edge need the right nutrition. When you drink enough water and eat a balanced diet, your body can make energy efficiently and fuel top performance.

You can make the most of your athletic talents and gain more strength, power, and endurance when you train. Base your diet on a variety of factors, including your age, size, physical condition, and the type of exercise you are doing. See your doctor for individualized nutrition advice.

Sports Nutrition - Protein

Proteins are often called the building blocks of the body. Protein consists of combinations of structures called amino acids that combine in various ways to make muscles, bone, tendons, skin, hair, and other tissues. They serve other functions as well including nutrient transportation and enzyme production. In fact, over 10,000 different proteins are in the body.

Adequate, regular protein intake is essential because it isn't easily stored by the body. Various foods supply protein in varying amounts with complete proteins (those containing 8 essential amino acids) coming mostly from animal products such as meat, fish, and eggs and incomplete protein (lacking one or more essential amino acid) coming from sources like vegetables, fruit and nuts. Vegetarian athletes may have trouble getting adequate protein if they aren't aware of how to combine foods.

Athletes need protein primarily to repair and rebuild muscle that is broken down during exercise and to help optimizes carbohydrate storage in the form of glycogen. Protein isn't an ideal source of fuel for exercise, but can be used when the diet lacks adequate carbohydrate. This is detrimental, though, because if used for fuel, there isn't enough available to repair and rebuild body tissues, including muscle.

Strength athletes believe more protein is important to build muscle. It turns out that strength athletes actually require high carbohydrate intake and adequate glycogen stores to fuel their workouts. It is the strength training workout that leads to increased muscle mass and strength. This is because all high intensity, powerful muscle contractions (such as weight lifting) are fueled with carbohydrate. Neither fat nor protein can be oxidized rapidly enough to meet the demands of high-intensity exercise. Adequate dietary carbohydrate must be consumed daily to restore glycogen levels.

Sports Nutrition - Carbohydrate - Carbs

Carbohydrate is arguably the most important source of energy for athletes. No matter what sport you play, carbs provide the energy that fuels muscle contractions. Once eaten, carbohydrates breakdown into smaller sugars (glucose, fructose and galactose) get absorbed and used as energy. Any glucose not needed right away gets stored in the muscles and the liver in the form of glycogen. Once these glycogen stores are filled up, any extra gets stored as fat.

Glycogen is the source of energy most often used for exercise. It is needed for any short, intense bouts of exercise from sprinting to weight lifting because it is immediately accessible. Glycogen also supplies energy during the first few minutes of any sport. During long, slow duration exercise, fat can help fuel activity, but glycogen is still needed to help breakdown the fat into something the muscles can use.

Adequate carbohydrate intake also helps prevent protein from being used as energy. If the body doesn't have enough carbohydrate, protein is broken down to make glucose for energy. Because the primary role of protein is as the building blocks for muscles, bone, skin, hair, and other tissues, relying on protein for energy (by failing to take in adequate carbohydrate) can limit your ability to build and maintain tissues. Additionally, this stresses the kidneys because they have to work harder to eliminate the byproducts of this protein breakdown.

Carbohydrate has other specific functions in the body including fueling the central nervous system (CNS) and brain.

How Carbohydrate Fuels Exercise

Carbohydrate stored as glycogen is an easily accessible source of energy for exercise. How long this energy supply lasts depends on the length and intensity of exercise and can range anywhere from 30 to 90 minutes or more. To avoid running out of energy during exercise, start with full glycogen stores, replenish them during exercise and refill them after exercise to be ready for the next workout.

Types of Carbohydrate

Carbohydrates are also divided into simple and complex forms. Simple sugars (carbs) are absorbed and converted to energy very quickly and provide a rapid source of energy. Fruit and sports drinks are a good source of simple carbohydrates.

Complex carbohydrates take a bit longer to be digested and absorbed into the body. They also take longer to breakdown and therefore provide energy at a slower rate than simple sugars. Examples of complex carbohydrates are breads, rice and pasta. Starch and fiber are also considered complex carbohydrates but fiber can not be digested or used for energy. Starch is probably the most important energy source in an athlete's diet because it is broken down and stored as glycogen. Foods high in starch include whole grain breads, cereals, pasta, and grains.

Sports Nutrition - Fat

Dietary fat is often blamed for many health problems; however, fat is an essential nutrient for optimal health. Adipose tissue (stored fat) provides cushion and insulation to internal organs, covers the nerves, moves vitamins (A, D, E, and K) throughout the body and is the largest reserve of stored energy available for activity. Fat is stored when we consume more calories then we use. There is an optimal level of body fat for health and for athletic activity. When that optimal level is exceeded, too much dietary fat can lead to problems with health as well as athletic performance.

Types of Dietary Fat

How Fat Provides Energy for Sports

Fat provides the highest concentration of energy of all the nutrients. One gram of fat equals nine calories. This calorie density, along with our seemingly unlimited storage capacity for fat, makes fat our largest reserve of energy. One pound of stored fat provides approximately 3,600 calories of energy. While these calories are less accessible to athletes performing quick, intense efforts like sprinting or weight lifting, fat is essential for longer, slower lower intensity and endurance exercise such as easy cycling and walking.

Fat provides the main fuel source for long duration, low to moderate intensity exercise (endurance sports such as marathons, and ultra marathons). Even during high intensity exercise, where carbohydrate is the main fuel source, fat is needed to help access the stored carbohydrate (glycogen).

Using fat for fuel for exercise, however, is dependent upon these important factors:

For these reasons, athletes need to carefully time when they eat fat, how much they eat and the type of fat they eat. In general, it's not a great idea to eat fat immediately before or during intense exercise. To learn more just click this link.