The One Liner

Exploring the Importance of Nutrition for Sports Performance: A Guide to Essential Nutrients, Timing, and Hydration.

Before knowing more about what is essential for sports performance, let’s talk about sports nutrition.

Sports Nutrition is an interdisciplinary field that focuses on nutrition during exercise and improving athletic performance. This includes all foods, nutrients, hydration, and supplementation that will help improve performance and maintain good health.

Let's dive right in..

The Role of Nutrition in Athletic Performance.

Let’s get started

This advice and guidance usually differ from individual to individual, depending on the type of sport and the individual training level. 

As the BMR, intensity, schedule, and type of training can significantly affect the individual’s nutritional needs.   

Athletes mainly focus on protein intake, but you must also focus on other macro and micronutrients. 

These include all the carbohydrates, fats, calcium, and iron. Zinc, Vitamins, etc., all the nutrients work together harmoniously to help you perform better and have better health.

No such food can help you the most, so having a balanced meal including all the food groups is the most important thing. Include all the food groups like:

There are two groups of Nutrients

1. Macronutrients

Into understanding some of the essential nutrients and what is their function.

Carbohydrates

These are the preferred source of energy by the body for exercising and other daily activities like breathing, thinking, and eating. That is because this will help maintain glycogen stores and blood glucose levels.

High-quality carbohydrates should include fruits, whole grains like oats, roti, rice, and starchy vegetables like sweet potatoes.

Protein

These are the body’s building blocks and are essential as they maintain and repair muscle tissues.

So the Recommended dietary allowance for a non-athletic person is 0.8 to 1 g / kg body weight.

ISSN recommends 1.2 to 2 g / kg body weight a day. So that it can support anabolism and better recovery from the training. But when it comes to athletes, the recommendations increase depending on the intensity and the type of sport they are into.

Healthy protein sources include:

Fats

Did you know that fats are actually pretty crucial for maintaining good health? 

They can help with hormone metabolism and neurotransmitter functions, which are essential for keeping our bodies running smoothly. Plus, if you’re an athlete with high energy demands, fats can also be a great source of concentrated energy and help you feel fuller longer.

Omega-3 fatty acids possess anti-inflammatory properties that have been shown to help athletes recover from intense training.

ISSN recommends a daily intake of 30% of total daily energy intake that can go up to 50%. 

So you’ll want to focus on consuming fats from health-promoting sources such as:

2. Micronutrients

Micronutrients are chemical elements comprising 13 essential vitamins and 7 inorganic minerals. 

They play an important role in:

Vitamins Are further divided into:

All these vitamins have a specific function in the body, and when you are training, the requirements will increase.

Minerals play a crucial role in ensuring an athlete’s health. The seven minerals needed to maintain accurate energy and hydration levels include:

Required Nutritional Intake For Peak Performance

So let’s jump right in.

Many people may need to realize that the type and timing of nutrition can significantly impact achieving training goals, reducing fatigue, and optimizing body composition. 

It’s essential to consider an individual’s needs and the demands of their sport when determining the best nutrition plan.

Usually, the three basic meals and the most critical meals include:

Grilled chicken and vegetable skewers:

When the meal timings are taken care of with the overall nutritional requirements, it will help in better performance and faster recovery.

The Importance of Hydration

Let me explain

Hydration is the most underrated but the most important thing to be considered. It can have a significant impact on the performance.

When we exercise and train, our body loses a lot of water and electrolytes in the form of sweat, as it’s a way our body cools down.

Hence, when doing physical activity, it’s imperative to replenish and consume rehydration drinks or water to avoid dehydration.

The athletes should have at least ½ liter of water in the first 2 hrs of training. Or at least 200 ml every 15 mins during intense activities.

Filling the Nutritional Gap Through Supplements

So let’s take a closer look.

Well, you know how sometimes getting all the nutrients you need from just food is hard? That’s where supplementation comes in! It’s not like you can swap out meals for pills or anything, but taking supplements can help fill in the gaps in your diet.

Some of the commonly used supplements are:

1. Protein Powders:

Typically, this 10 – 25 g of protein per scoop makes it easier to meet the requirements.

These are derived and isolated from whey, egg whites, peas, rice, and soya. Depending on your preference and requirement, you choose a protein powder.

Add it to your milk / rotis / oats/smoothies, or just have it with water. This helps when you have a post or around your training.

2. Vitamins and Minerals

Many athletes take a high-quality multivitamin containing all the essential vitamins and minerals to compensate for any potential diet gaps.

This is likely a good idea for most people, as the potential benefits of supplementing with a multivitamin outweigh the risks.

One vitamin in particular that athletes often supplement is vitamin D, especially during winter in areas with less sun exposure.

Low vitamin D levels have been shown to affect sports performance, so supplementing is often recommended.

3. Caffeine:

Research has shown strength and endurance in sports such as running, jumping, throwing, and weightlifting.

This is because of the caffeine’s brain-stimulating effect that makes you feel more energized and has you work longer.

This is best done pre your workout. One can take a supplement or have a cup of black coffee to get the benefits of caffeine.

4. Omega 3

Supplementing with omega-3 fatty acids has been shown to have a very positive effect on the recovery and performance of athletes.

These are available from food by eating foods such as fatty fish, flax and chia seeds, nuts, and soybeans. But if you need to meet, you can consume fish oil tablets or vegan omega-3 supplements. 

Many more ergogenic aids can help in improving your performance, like:

A Nutrition plan for Athletes

Let me show you how

Every athlete has different nutritional needs depending I the sport and the level of training that they are doing.

Along with the sport, many other factors are critically important in planning an athlete’s diet.  People training or racing at peak levels may find it challenging to consume enough food to meet their energy requirements without causing gastrointestinal (GI) discomfort, especially immediately before an important workout or race.

As ISSA highlights the importance of hydration and carbohydrate loading for competitive swimmers. Also, it says it is essential to consume easily digestible carbohydrates like bananas, pasta, and white rice before the event to avoid GI discomfort.

Final Thoughts

In a nutshell

Athletes should work with a sports nutritionist to meet their nutritional needs to maintain body weight, optimize performance and recovery, and plan a timing strategy that suits their body, sport, and schedule.

Urmi Hariya

She is a Sports Nutritionist, Dietician, and yoga therapist. She has her Master’s in Sports Nutrition from Mumbai University. She is a certified diabetes educator, yoga instructor, and even a level 2 yoga therapist certified by the Ministry of Ayush.

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