We all know regular exercise is an important component of fitness and health, but how many of us know that what we ate last night and this morning can have a huge impact on the quality of today’s workout? Sports nutrition, the science of using simple dietary practices to help optimize athletic performance, combines all the best nutritional components and strategies to ensure your diet will efficiently fuel your exercise regimen—not slow it down.
Let’s look at the components of a healthful training diet that supports athletic performance:
• Fluids help maintain normal body temperature and deliver energy and nutrients to hardworking muscles, so it’s no surprise that well-hydrated athletes perform better and can sustain longer than their poorly hydrated counterparts.
• Carbohydrate is the fuel of choice for both recreational and competitive athletes because it is the most readily available fuel for working muscles. In fact, low-carbohydrate fuel stores are a common limiting factor in high-intensity and endurance exercise.
• Protein is essential for increasing muscle mass and strength, as well as for recovering from prolonged exercise.
• Vitamins and minerals don’t provide energy, but they’re essential for converting the food you eat into energy your muscles can use.
Timing the consumption of food and drink throughout your exercise session can significantly improve hydration, energy, recovery, and the quality of individual workouts. Following this hydration and nutrition regimen before, during, and after workouts can help to optimize exercise performance and improve recovery for subsequent workouts.
BEFORE: Two to four hours before exercise, be sure to hydrate early and often, and eat healthful and nutritious carbohydrate-rich foods, including light sandwiches, pasta, salads, fruits, and nutritional bars. Consider more rapidly absorbed nutritional shakes as little as one hour before an event, depending on your individual level of digestive comfort. Continue hydrating right up to the start of an event and consider a natural caffeine boost 30 minutes prior to exercise.
DURING: Continue hydrating with small amounts of cool fluids, including water and sports drinks, every 15 to 30 minutes. For events lasting longer than an hour, consider rapidly digested carbohydrate-rich foods such as bagels, gels, bananas, apples, oranges, and nutritional bars.
AFTER: Try to consume a balanced intake of fluids, carbohydrate, and protein immediately after exercise to maximize hydration, muscle-energy refueling, muscle repair, and muscle rebuilding. The right balance of carbohydrate and protein can trigger and enhance the anabolic recovery process when consumed immediately after exercise and again an hour or two later—especially for those who have multiple daily workout sessions.
Sports nutrition—it’s smart nutrition for elite athletes and smart for the athlete inside each of us.