Just like a car uses fuel to move, the human body also needs the right type of food and amount to build and grow.
Nutrition is key for athletes and means the difference between a win and a loss, the ability to endure and push as hard as possible, resistance to diseases and ability to heal from injuries.
Athletes’ bodies are put through extreme physical demands every day, during practice, workouts, and games.
Diet makes a huge difference in performance. What players choose to fuel their bodies matters-for their playing, their health, and their future in sports.
In addition to eating healthy food, they need to have the knowledge and investment in taking care of themselves to stay at the top of their game.
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Athletes need more calories than the average person - anywhere from between 2000-5000 per day.
Athletes can improve their performance with better nutrition, and education about body, and how to keep it in top shape.
For an athlete, good nutrition and eating habits means extended time in the sporting venture and avoiding long term health problems.
What does it mean to eat healthy for an athlete?
Generally speaking, an athlete’s diet should be similar to that recommended for the general public, with the energy intake divided into three; Carbohydrates taking more than half the share, protein just about 12% and less than 30% fats.
The reasons for these are that during exercise, carbohydrates are broken down in the body and stored as sugar.
This is helpful when one is doing an activity that requires endurance. Carbohydrates are also essential for the recovery of an athlete.
It is also important to note that when carbohydrates in the body are limited, they affect the protein base used for muscle building.
What about proteins?
Proteins are a very important component of an athlete’s diet. They essentially help in building and recovery and therefore should be taken in proportions after the carbohydrates.
Nutritionists have preferred the cereal sources of proteins with the argument that they contain both carbohydrates and proteins.
However, the amount of proteins recommended for sportspersons is a bit higher than that of the general public.
Athletes need to have these in their diet. However, studies show that it is better to get fats from natural sources such as olive oils, avocado nuts and seeds as opposed to fried foods, biscuits cakes and pastries.
Water is the other essential element in an athlete’s life, dehydration is not only bad in reducing the performance of an athlete, but it can also prove to be fatal as one may collapse and even die.
Fluid intake is said to be very important before, during and after the event. One is advised not to wait till they are thirsty. While water is good enough, mineralised water is even better for athletes.
They are said to come in handy where one has a deficiency in their dietary needs. They are not to be used “to add to” to say that there is no proof that having additional vitamins will improve performance in sports.
Before going for supplements, it is recommended that one should try and see if there are alternatives.
However, the supplements are found in tablet, liquid, powder and cover a wide range of products such as vitamins, minerals and herbs.
Importance of fruits
Most fruits are naturally low in fat, sodium, and calories. None have cholesterol. Fruits are sources of many essential nutrients that are under-consumed, including potassium, dietary fibre, vitamin C, and folate (folic acid). Diets rich in potassium may help to maintain healthy blood pressure.
Alcohol and drugs
Despite the myths out there, medical evidence shows that the use of alcohol and drugs is harmful to sportsmen with a myriad of consequences from dependency, visual impairment, weakness of the body and eventually long term consequences. I guess there is no way out other than to keep away from alcohol and drugs.
Recovery from injuries
Sarah Daren, a consultant of health and wellness, says practising and training creates damage in the body naturally, and athletes who do not fuel their bodies properly will need longer recovery times.
A healthy diet will also help players who experience an injury heal more quickly and get back in the game.
Hormone levels, which are important to athletic performance, can also be influenced by diet, and athletes can experience hormone deficiencies if their diets are poor. Food is medicine!
Athletes’ physical, mental, and emotional needs
Players need to be aware of what all their bodies' needs are, and take a proactive approach by focusing on nutrition, mindfulness, and any other activities or practices they need to be well.
They need to take care of their bodies, minds and practice good nutrition to ensure that they're able to give each game their all.
- Sarah Daren, whose insights have been used in the above article, has been a consultant in the United States for startups in multiple industries including health and wellness, wearable technology, nursing, and education.