Why is nutrition important in active/athletic populations?
It is essential for all active persons including athletes to consume a well-balanced diet of the three important macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates, and fats) as well as micronutrients, minerals, and fluids. A well-balanced diet promotes better performance in training and competition as well as is necessary for muscle, tendon, ligament, and bone repair.
It is important to drink enough fluids to stay hydrated throughout the day, prior to, during, and after practice, training, or competition. An easy and quick way to tell if you are hydrated is to look at the color of your urine when you use the bathroom. If you are properly hydrated your urine stream should be a pale yellow color. If it is dark yellow that indicates you are dehydrated and need to consume more water. If it is brown or red then you should see a doctor as this may indicate another condition.
Pre Competition/Training Nutrition
The meal you consume prior to athletic activity is important to provide fluid for adequate hydration during activity, maximize blood glucose levels for muscle and mental performance, and keep away feelings of hunger. In order to prevent gastrointestinal upset, it is recommended that a high-carbohydrate meal is consumed >3 hours prior to competition. It is important to experiment what time frame and foods consumed work best for you and are appropriate for your individual needs and sport. Please consult with a sports dietitian for individualized dietary advice.
Post Competition/Training Nutrition
What you eat after activity or training is vital to replenishing your body, rehydrating, and repairing muscle tissue. What you consume varies depending on your sport, time-played, intensity of session, weight, age, and sex. Please consult with a sports dietitian for individualized dietary advice. In general it is important to eat a meal consisting of the appropriate carbohydrates, protein, fats, and fluids to allow your body to replenish its stores.
Nutrients and Recommendations
Protein promotes growth and cell repair and is absolutely essential to maintaining health and cell function and structure throughout the entire body. Athletes typically require more protein intake than the general population due to muscle protein synthesis and breakdown increasing up to 48 hours after exercising. It is recommended that athletes involved in a combination of aerobic endurance training and strength training consume 1.4 – 1.7 g of protein per kg of body weight per day. Additionally, younger individuals should consume 20-25 grams of protein after a weight training or resistance training session to maximize muscular repair (older adults should consume around 40 grams of protein). Below is a list of recommended protein sources.
Sources of that provide all 8 highly digestible essential amino acids
Vegetarian-Based Protein (eat in combination to get all 8 essential amino acids)
- Whole grains
Carbohydrates act as the primary source of energy for the body. It is recommended that athletes experiment with low, medium, and high glycemic index (GI) carbohydrate consumption prior to competition or a training session to see what makes them feel and perform best. Low-GI foods are absorbed and digested slowly in the body whereas high-GI foods are absorbed rapidly to provide immediate sources of energy. It is recommended that high-GI foods are consumed during training and competition and immediately afterward to rapidly replenish the body. Below is a list of low, medium, and high GI foods.
Low-Glycemic Index Carbohydrates (slow-absorbing)
- apple juice
- boiled carrots
- corn torilla
- ice cream
- kidney beans
- raw orange
- milk or dairy
Medium-Glycemic Index Carbohydrates
- brown rice
- rolled oats
- boiled sweet potato
High- Glycemic Index Carbohydrates (fast absorbing)
- cornflakes ceral
- boiled potato
- rice crackers
- rice milk
- raw watermelon
- white bread
- white rice
- whole wheat bread
Fats are used in the body for certain physiological and structural function and provide the most energy compared to protein or carbohydrates per gram. Saturated fats are used in the body, however the body can make these fats on its own, so there is no dietary requirement for saturated fat consumption. Unsaturated fats need to be consumed for appropriate body function. These include omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids which are essential to brain and central nervous system function, hormone production, and healthy cell membranes. Recommendations for foods high in essential fatty acids to be consumed in a well balanced diet are listed below.
Sources of essential unsaturated fats
Omega-6 rich foods:
- Safflower oil
Omega-3 rich foods:
- Soybean oil
- Canola oil
Vitamins & Minerals
It is important that a variety of foods from all of the food groups (ChooseMyPlate.gov) are consumed throughout the week to meet the appropriate vitamin and mineral consumption guidelines. Unfortunately, a large portion of the general population is lacking in Vitamin E, Magnesium, Calcium, and Vitamin D. It is important that these are consumed in a well-balanced diet. In addition to this, females who have gone through puberty are typically lacking in Iron and Folate. Below is a list of foods high in their respective nutrient that should be consumed throughout the week to assure these needs are met:
- Nuts & Seeds
- Pumpkin seeds, almonds, cashews
- Also includes mung beans & lima beans
- Dairy foods
- Canned sardines
- Calcium fortified beverages (orange juice, soy beverages, etc)
- Fatty fish
- Fortified yogurt
- Vitamin D fortified beverages (milk, orange juice, soy beverages)
- Red meat
- Iron-fortified cereals
- Sunflower seeds
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- Institute of Medicine (U.S). Panel on Macronutrients. Dietary Reference Intakes for Vitamin A, Vitamin K, Arsenic, Boron, Chromium, Copper, Iodine, Iron, Maganese, Molybdenum, Nickel, Silicon, Vanadium, and Zinc. Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 82-161, 290-393, 2001.
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