A Guide to Sports Nutrition
Sports nutrition plays an essential role in performance, helping athletes maximise their capabilities in whichever discipline they compete in.
In simple terms, sports nutrition is the study of how different nutrients affect the human body in an athletic context.
Understanding of sports nutrition has grown massively over the past few decades, but how does it affect performance? Let’s take a closer look.
What is Sports Nutrition?
Sports nutrition is the study of the nutritional needs of athletes, but can also be applied to any individual who is physically active.
It encompasses several academic fields including biochemistry, and is designed to give athletes the best chance of maximising their performance.
From a sports perspective, athletes have unique nutritional needs due to their activity level. This covers both their food intake and hydration requirements.
Tailoring a plan that delivers the right balance of nutrients is an essential part of ensuring that athletes perform to the best of their ability.
Macronutrients vs Micronutrients
There are two categories of nutrients: macronutrients and micronutrients. These provide the body with everything it needs to function correctly.
Macronutrients fall into three categories – carbohydrates, protein and fat. Your personal fitness goals dictate the balance you need between the three.
Carbohydrates typically comprise 45 to 65 percent of your total daily calorie intake and break down into the fuel that powers every cell in your body.
Protein can also be a source of energy but is primarily used to rebuild your body’s cells and is the only macronutrient that is 100 percent required for human survival.
Fats perform several functions, including improving joint health and boosting brain function. They also work as a long-term fuel for the body.
Micronutrients are only required in small amounts but still perform a vital function in supporting their macronutrient counterparts.
These include vitamins and minerals, which boost your immune system, help your metabolism, transport oxygen and promote good bone health.
Many micronutrients are produced inside the body, but it is often the case that athletes need additional vitamins and minerals from outside their diet.
With nutritional requirements generally varying between athletes, seeking advice from a qualified sports nutritionist is advisable.
Macronutrients in Sports Nutrition
Getting the right amount and balance of macronutrients is the key to ensuring that athletes can maximise their physical performance.
For activities that require short bursts of energy your body relies on carbohydrates, while fats come into play for more prolonged activities.
Every athlete must ensure they get enough protein to support their carbohydrate and fat intake to build healthy muscle and aid recovery.
Regardless of the level you are competing at, it is imperative that your daily calorie intake is based on healthy foods.
If your diet contains lots of saturated fat or excessive amounts of salt, your body will suffer and you will not be able to perform at your best.
Micronutrients in Sports Nutrition
One of the most common ways athletes gain the additional micronutrients they need for performance is via supplementation.
However, it is vital to ensure that any products you take are free from anything on the banned lists of anti-doping agencies.
Athletes lose a lot of sodium, potassium, magnesium and calcium when performing, so it is essential to replace these in the correct ratio.
Nutrient deficiencies caused by genetic conditions must also be addressed, as these can significantly hinder your ability to perform.
Qualified sports nutritionists can identify these issues and formulate a plan to ensure you get the correct amount of micronutrients in your diet.
Hydration in Sports Nutrition
Another hugely important element of sports nutrition is hydration, which can impact physical and mental performance.
When you sweat your body sheds water and electrolytes, and both need to be replaced in the right proportions before, during and after physical activity.
If fluid is not replaced at regular intervals during training or competition, it can cause dehydration which leads to a decreased volume of blood circulating through the body.
The amount of blood pumped with each heartbeat decreases, thus meaning that the exercising muscles do not receive enough oxygen.
Exhaustion sets in, and the athlete’s performance suffers. The by-products of exercise are also not flushed out of the body as regularly as they should be.
Sports Nutrition – The Final Word
Seeking advice from a sports nutritionist is the best to ensure that your diet is suitable to suit your athletic requirements.
They can help you build a personalised nutrition plan designed to support you properly throughout your training and competitive activities.
This becomes even more vital if you are a vegetarian, vegan, special dietary requirements or partaking in activities in extreme conditions.
With the right sports nutritional plan, you can experience significant benefits to strength, conditioning and overall performance.
Now we’ve established how sports nutrition works, check out our guide to sports medicine.