The Basics Of Good Sports Nutrition
What you need to be able to perform in sports can be summed up in two words: water and nutrition. You can’t go fast or very far without both. In the following paragraphs, the importance of water and fluids will be the first thing to be addressed. After that, the focus will be on nutrition, and the elements of nutrition that are the most important. Without proper nutrition, you can never be at your best, or even approach it, no matter how hard you train, or how well you are coached. There isn’t any single food that’s going to carry you all the way, although some foods have much more to offer than others. The key to good nutrition lies in following a properly balanced diet.
The importance of drinking plenty of water
The human bodies of athletes and non-athletes alike consist mainly of water. The blood that flows through veins and arteries is mostly water, whose function is that of carrying oxygen and the nutrients in the bloodstream to every part of the body. When someone exercises or participates in sports, energy in the form of calories is burned. When energy is burned, the body heats up.
Water helps keep the body from becoming overheated. If the water supply becomes low, problems can arise. Water loss as little as 2 percent will affect performance. If the water loss becomes higher, heat exhaustion can occur and can take a toll. Water also helps to keep waste and toxins from accumulating in the body. The very best diet you can think of will do you little good if you aren’t taking in enough water.
The importance of a well-balanced diet
All of the nutrients the body needs are essential. The body certainly requires vitamins, minerals, and various trace elements if it is to function at all. A typical diet, even if it is not the healthiest of diets, will in most cases provide these nutrients. An athlete cannot of course afford to be deficient in any of the essential nutrients. To perform at his or her peak however, an athlete needs not only a well-balanced diet, but that diet needs to focus on several key nutrients.
A well-balanced diet will consist of a variety of foods, since no one food will provide all of the nutrients that are needed, although there are a few ‘super foods’ that come close. Still, variety is not only the spice of life; it’s the secret of a well-balanced, highly nutritious diet. What are these key nutrients? They are protein, fat, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, and of course, water.
Carbohydrates as a fuel source
Carbohydrates are an important fuel source. Carbohydrates are found mainly in sugars and starches. They are present in many fruits and vegetables, and are found in such food items as breads, cereals, and rice. An athlete in training or performing will do best when roughly two-thirds of the calories being burned come from carbohydrates.
At some point during exercise, carbohydrate fuel can run low or run out. When that happens, the body will begin to burn protein and stored fat. The body can keep going, but the level of performance it is capable of will begin to drop. Eating carbohydrates loads the muscles with glycogen, the fuel that gives the muscles their energy. The glycogen has to be replenished when it begins to run low, so athletes will often follow a diet high in carbohydrates during the days before strenuous or lengthy competitions.
Protein as a fuel source
The body uses protein to build muscle and tissue. It also uses protein as a fuel source. Once protein has been burned away, which is what can happen once the supply of carbohydrates has been exhausted; the only remainder fuel source is stored fat. The amount of protein a person needs depends upon several things. It depends upon an individual’s level of fitness. It depends upon the type, duration, and intensity of the activity and it depends upon daily calorie count and carbohydrate intake. Protein is often the main source of fuel in entrance sports. It is also the primary source of fuel in bodybuilding. Also, if you eat too little or too much, your body tends to use protein as its primary energy source.
Fats as a fuel source
There are two general types of fats the body uses for fuel. One is saturated fats, which is the type of fats found in animal-based foods, including dairy products. Unsaturated fats, the other type, come from plants, mainly from vegetables. The body needs some fats to perform certain vital functions. It tends to use very little as fuel, relying primarily on carbohydrates and protein.
When fat is the primary fuel, it’s during low-level physical activity. It becomes the primary fuel source when a person is at rest. When that same person begins to exercise and exercise strenuously, the body switches to protein and carbohydrates as fuel sources. Stored fat is used as a fuel, but when one has to rely on stored fat, the level of intensity of one’s performance cannot be nearly as high.
What to eat prior to competition
It is of course never a good idea to eat a full meal just before beginning to compete, but most athletes will want to eat a fairly large meal the morning of a major event. This meal will usually be quite high in carbohydrates, as they are an instant source of energy. In addition, most sugars and starches digest easily, allowing nutrients to quickly enter the bloodstream. While protein makes an excellent fuel, it is harder for the body to digest. Protein consumed just before competition can be more of a hindrance than a help where performance is concerned, because the body will attempt to provide fuel to the muscles and digest the protein at the same time. Needless to say, all of the foods that are eaten in the hours before a competition should be easily digestible. Fluids should not be ignored of course, as fluid intake is every bit as important as is the intake of nutrients.
Carbohydrates, protein, and fats are all important fuel sources when it comes to exercise and competitive performance. The importance of carbohydrates or protein as a primary fuel depends to some degree on the type and intensity of the activity, although both are needed. Fat becomes the primary fuel source during rest or low levels of activity, and stored fat of course serves as the reserve fuel tank. In designing a balanced diet, one therefore needs to take into account the kinds of activity, the intensity, and in the case of competitive activities, the time of the performance.