What Exactly Does Optimum Sports Nutrition Mean?

Sports nutrition is the science of tailoring food and fluid requirements so an athlete can maximize their sporting performance. In order for an athlete to perform at their best and/or to improve they must maintain the optimum sport nutrition diet. First, a nutrition diet does not mean you have to starve yourself, but rather you have well thought out guidelines on what types of food you can and should eat each day. The proper diet will ensure that the athlete’s body is provided with the fuel it requires, the correct ratios of fuel, and the right amount of fluid to prevent dehydration. However an often overlooked element in all of this is to make sure that the intake of various foods and fluids is timed thereby maximizing ones performance effects.

A simple fact that most people understand is that fuel is required by the body to perform any kind of work. Any movement of muscles requires a source of energy or fuel to allow that movement to take place. If this fuel is not present the muscle will fail to work and performance is compromised. The muscles of the body predominately use carbohydrates as a source of energy, although they can use fat and protein if needed.

A balanced diet is important for an athlete and includes sources of carbohydrate (grains, cereals, fruits and vegetables), proteins (meat, eggs, fish, nuts, seeds, legumes, tofu and dairy products) and fats (avocados, plant based oils, nuts and seeds and oily fish). This variety of food ensures that an athlete can consume a diversity of nutrients including vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Because an athlete needs to consume more total carbohydrates, proteins and fats than a member of the general public, in most instances they need to take more time in planning their snacks and meals. A good guideline however is that 55 – 60% of the person’s total energy should come from carbohydrates, 25 – 30% of energy intake should come from fats and 12 – 15% of energy intake should be from protein.

While having a balanced intake of food is important, a more important issue is that of hydration. If a competitor is dehydrated by even the smallest amount they will compromise their performance in a number of ways. The body needs to maintain a stable core temperature as any increase in this can damage enzymes in the body, which in turn affects metabolism and ultimately performance. The body uses various mechanisms to keep this core temperature in the ideal range and water plays a large role in how these mechanisms work. Sweat is produced by the body in order to cool it down. As sweat is taken from the surface of the skin this provides a cooling mechanism for the body. Remember sporting activities require your thought processes to be sharp, and not surprisingly the brain also relies on fluid. So an individual who is dehydrated will find that this his or her mental function has decreased. Reaction time will be decreased, concentration will be reduced, and thus it becomes a lot harder to make decisions.

Although what and athlete consumes is important, the timing also has a major impact on performance. For example eating a large meal before a training session or event may seem like a good idea as it provides carbohydrates but unless this meal is consumed 2 – 4 hours before the training session or event the body will not have time to digest and absorb the fuel from the food. Drinking 200 – 300mLs directly before training or an event may not seem like a comfortable strategy but in fact research shows that having this amount of fluid immediately before helps to prime the stomach for fluid intake while exercising.

Thus athletes who want to have the optimum sports nutrition need to keep in mind that they need to consume enough total energy (i.e. carbohydrates, proteins and good fats), and keep enough fluid in their body to maximize their physical performance. Lastly, they cannot forget that the timing of their meals and snacks to thus keep the body’s engine performing consistently.

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