Athletes often spend hours each week or even each day working to improve their athletic performance. While there is no perfect diet for an athlete, making some simple changes in what and when you eat and drink can help you to improve strength, increase endurance, and feel and perform your best. While diet alone won’t improve your times or win your competition, sports nutrition can provide you an extra edge over your competitor and is an essential component to being a high-performing athlete.
Sports nutrition information can often be misleading, so if you are confused on how to eat right for your body and sport, a registered dietitian can work with you on a personalized sports nutrition plan. Here are a few simple but important sports nutrition tips:
1. Stay hydrated – Our bodies are made up of 55-65% fluid and therefore, a major key to successful workouts is staying well-hydrated before, during, and after your exercising. Even being slightly dehydrated can impair performance. Carry a water bottle with you all day and refill it frequently. Remember that our body’s thirst indicator is imperfect and by the time you feel thirsty, it is often too late.
2. Fuel yourself regularly – For most athletes, it is impossible to meet nutrition needs with less than 3 meals and 3 snacks a day. Eating every 2-4 hours helps to maintain energy throughout the day and during practice. Eating a carbohydrate-containing snack after a hard workout will help prevent you from feeling fatigued when exercising the next day.
3. Consume adequate carbohydrates – Carbohydrates should make up at least half of our diets. Carbohydrates are the body’s main source of stored energy in the muscles. If your diet is deficient in carbohydrates, you are at a greater risk for fatigue, injuries, and a decrease in performance. Aim to get a variety of carbohydrate-containing grains and fruit at each meal and snack.
4. Eat Enough Protein – Protein helps active muscles stay strong and healthy. Include protein with each meal and immediately after strength training to help repair tissues and build muscle. Good sources of protein include meat, beans, fish, poultry, nuts, eggs, and dairy products.
5. Pay attention to pre and post exercise eating – Most bodies function best with a high carbohydrate meal or snack (such as a bagel and fruit) 1-2 hours before exercise, followed with a snack with both protein and carbohydrate (such as an energy bar and chocolate milk) shortly after exercise.