Performance nutrition isn’t just for athletes and Olympians any more. Many individuals are realizing what professional athletes have known for all too long; food matters. While a nutrition plan is strictly based on outcome goals or a person’s desired results, the best kinds of nutrition depend on both and help drive an athlete towards said results.
For the most part, eating more carbohydrates and lower amounts of fat prior to and after exercise can improve the way a person feels while working out. Perhaps they are looking to improve performance or have a more aesthetic goal in mind. On the other hand, those looking to seek muscle gain or change their body composition may include more protein in their diets. Sports nutrition can also offer direction on nutrient timing (when you eat and drink certain macronutrients) as well as the best nutrient-rich foods based on your goals.
What Do I Eat?
According to Dr. John Berardi of Precision Nutrition, there is a list of required nutrients to maintain maximum fitness levels. The main macronutrients for all individuals include protein, carbohydrates, fats, and the micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) found in healthy vegetables, fruits, and nutrient-dense foods included in the macronutrient category above. Water is also a crucial fluid that must be maintained to optimize performance and cognitive function. Servings sizes for all macronutrients are similar for active individuals compare to athletes, with the exception of carbohydrates, which can be exponentially increased with intense exercise and long-duration activities. Athletes require more energy to sustain their activities and typically should eat additional sources of carbs each day. Fat lipid sources include oils (such as avocado, olive, and coconut) nuts (pecans, walnuts, almonds) and seeds (chia, flax, sesame). Protein is also an important part of the modern athlete’s diet and should start at a range of .5-.8 grams per pound of body weight. At a minimum, highly active athletes should be consuming at least their lean body mass in protein (mass minus body fat percentage). While it’s often assumed that 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight is the norm, excess protein can be stored as body fat in the body if intake is too high and doesn’t match an athlete’s activity and goals.
When Do I Eat?
Most people think meal timing is the same thing as nutrient timing. They are completely different methods. Meal timing addresses how many meals and to what frequency you eat them throughout the day. Nutrient timing on the other hand guides an athlete when to eat certain macros prior to and furthers away from training times. In terms of athletic performance and results, meal timing is a myth. Nutrient timing and coordinating the intake of food and drinks will affect how your plan improves your fitness results. While too little nutrition prior to exercising can cause low blood sugar and leave an athlete feeling weak or fatigued, an excess of calories can have an opposite effect and lead to physical reactions such as cramping or vomiting. The Mayo Clinic helps explain that low blood sugar is especially apparent in the morning after waking, which is why a breakfast high in carbohydrates 1-2 hours prior to exercising is recommended. Large meals should be allowed enough time to digest, for example, 3-4 hours prior to workouts. Meals around training times, before and after should consist of carbohydrates and protein with fat being a very small portion of their plate. The majority of an athlete’s fat macronutrients should be contained in meals furthest away from training times. Meals high in protein and carbs eaten after exercise can help to improve muscle repair while fat can take away from said activities.
When seeking out a nutrition plan to maximize your athletic potential, be sure to focus on an adequate amount of carbs to support energy levels, a minimum amount of protein to help support muscle growth, and fats to support a healthy body. Micronutrients and water should not be overlooked. While sports nutrition was once for the Olympic athlete only, it’s important for active individuals to seek out adequate nutrition as well. f you are following the guidelines mentioned above and need a specific plan to help meet your goals, seek out further assistance from a nutritionist, registered dietician or sports nutrition coach to help reach your goals.