Proper Nutrition for Athletes is vital to success

Nutrition is one of the bricks in the foundation for successful performance of any athlete

Proper Nutrition for Hard Training Athletes

Weather you’re an elite college or professional level athlete, a weekend ball player, or a person trying to lose fat who has embarked on a very ambitious training program there is one thing for sure; you have different nutrition requirements than the average person. The demands you place upon your body far exceed those of the average couch potato, or even the person who goes for walk or relaxed bike ride every day after work.

You are breaking your body down in order to build it back up stronger, faster, and possibly bigger than it was before. Not only do you have to avoid and recover from injuries, you have to maximize your potential in the gym, on the court, and on the field. That takes a special attention to nutrition. If you’re trying to get lean and strip fat from your body, you may be on a fitness program that rivals the training program of elite athletes. You may not have the raw, athletic talent that some of these amazing performers are blessed with, but you push yourself to the ragged edge just the same.

The key is to maximize quality nutrient absorption, and minimize the non essential food you take in. To do that you have to eat the right things at the proper times. If you are an athlete, here are some essential tips to optimize your nutrition and maximize performance.

1 – Eat Whole Foods

Minimize processing, which tends to take nutrients out of food and add in things you probably don’t really want in your body anyway. There is another important reason to eat minimally processed foods. Include raw fruits and plenty of green vegetables and whole grains in your diet.

Processing removes many of the so called micro-nutrients called phytochemicals that are present in plant foods. Scientists have recently identified these as being important to promote overall health and recovery. As an athlete, injury prevention and recovery is paramount, so these micro-nutrients take on a whole, new importance. They include antioxidants and compounds that help break down fat and cholesterol.

According to a USDA study about 90% of Americans do not get enough dietary fiber. Again, many processed foods, such as fast foods, have a significant amount of their fiber removed by excessive processing. Although one of the key benefits of eating whole foods, like grains, is the amount of dietary fiber you get, it goes beyond that. According to Dr. Simin Liu, a professor at UCLA “Whole grains are rich in a myriad of vitamins, minerals and phytochemical compounds that, alone or in combination, are likely to have significant health benefits that are beyond that from dietary fiber,”

2 – Eat More Often

I have said this before in other posts, and it is pretty widely known, but still bears repeating. For maximum nutrient absorption, you should eat 5 – 6 small meals per day, not the traditional 3 larger meals. Sure, you can still have breakfast, lunch and dinner, but in between those you should have a healthy snack.

The other key point to remember when you are eating more often is that breakfast, lunch and dinner need to shrink. If you are going to eat 5 or 6 meals per day, they should be the same in total calories that you need for your alloted, total, daily caloric intake. So, if you’re supposed to be eating 2,800 calories per day according to your activity and recovery needs, simply split that up into 6 meals, rather than only 3.

3 – Balanced Meals Rule

It’s not enough to have a balanced diet! Every meal should be balanced, and include balanced fat, complex carbohydrates and protein. As an athlete, you need more protein than the average sedentary person. The average person needs about 1 gram of quality protein per pound of body weight. If you are engaged in heavy resistance training, such as for bodybuilding, football, or hockey you can have a gram for every pound of body weight, possibly even more. Every meal should be well balanced, meaning if you have complex carbs, you should also ingest fat and protein along with it. Don’t forget to get enough protein.

4 – Meal Timing is Vital, Too

Make sure you rehydrate and drink a protein smoothy directly after your workout. This will replace the glycogen you used up during your training, and supply the protein your muscles need for recovery. However, a 2001 study “Timing of amino acid-carbohydrate ingestion alters anabolic response of muscle to resistance exercise“ published in the American Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism suggests that it is actually more effective to supplement amino acids / protein and carnbohydrate before intense resistance training.

This study is backed up by a similar study completed in 2008 at the University of Texas at Galveston with the same title. In that study, 6 male test subjects were given protein/carbohydrate drinks either before or after resistance training sessions. The “pre” supplementation group showed greater anabolic response than the “post” group.

Anabolic response is so important to athletes that many have gone the PED route to achieve it! It’s safe to say that your sport’s association or governing body probably frowns on that, health effects notwithstanding! The results of these two studies seem to indicate that a protein / carb drink immediately before intense training sessions, followed by a carb drink immediately after will maximize anabolic response.

5 – Maintain Hydration

If your muscle tissues are not adequately hydrated, your performance and recovery will suffer. Athletes need more water than average individuals, if for no other reason than because they lose more. In addition, their needs for protein synthesis are greater as well. All in all it is one of the most important nutritional points to take into consideration for hard training athletes, drink plenty of good, old H2O.

Sports drinks are great before or after your workout, but pure, clean water is vitally important throughout the day. A problem with drinking sports drinks is that many of them are loaded with refined sugar type sweeteners, something you should avoid like the plague.

Artificial sweeteners may not be much better. They’re a veritable chemistry set, after all. These drinks are also expensive. That’s no big deal if you’re pulling down $5 million a year playing for the Giants, but can be a problem for college athletes and plain old weekend athletes in these tough economic times.

These are some guidelines on proper nutrition for athletes. If you’re training for any sport, or just to lose weight, remember that proper nutrition is one of the largest factors determining your overall success. You can train hard, but you must fuel the fire too. It’s not the 80 diet/20 training rule when it comes to hard training athletes, probably the reverse, but why give away any advantage? Your competitors won’t!