Nutrition for Athletes

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Top level athletes and players train and compete multiple times per week, and even sometimes per day. For this, the athletes need adequate fuel to maintain their level of performance. Nutrition is the fuel for athletes. This “fuel” can be broken down into 3 main components to see what nutrients give which type of benefits – Carbohydrates, Fats and Protein.blog food image

Looking at Carbohydrates, we can see the various types of benefits it has. Carbohydrates are ideal for helping exercising muscle. They provide the majority of energy requirements for the early stages of moderate exercise, so as work intensity increases, carbohydrate utilization increases. They also yield more energy per unit of oxygen consumed than fats. Carbohydrates are also important for controlling the blood glucose level – It helps with the replacement of glycogen in the muscle.

Carbohydrates are also a necessary component for pre-match meals. This can sometimes be in the form of starch, as these complex carbohydrates are digested at a rate that provides consistent energy to the body during exercise. Carb-loading is a term used for athletes who stack up on carbs for endurance events that last over 90 minutes – which if done properly, will cause the athlete to gain a small amount of weight that can be used efficiently during exercise. Studies have proven that athlete diets that are high in carbohydrates result in larger capacity for endurance events such as cycling and long-distance running, and that overall performance can improve by 2%-3% over a set distance.

Moving on from this, studies have shown that the frequency of food intake and diet also has a huge effect on athletic performance. Looking at carbohydrates, the AIS declared that eating smaller amounts of carbohydrates during the day fuels the body better in preparation for exercise, compared to 3 large meals loaded with carbohydrates –This is easier for the body to digest and turn into energy more efficiently, along with constant intake of nutritious fluids.

Fats are also an important part of an athlete’s diet. Fat helps move certain vitamins around the body (A,D,E, and K), while being the largest reserve of stored energy available for activity. Fat provides the highest concentration of energy of all of the nutrients and is suited best to endurance activities such as cycling and walking. Where carbohydrate is the main fuel source, fat is needed to help access the stored carbohydrate (glycogen).

On the flip side, fat is quite slow and uses a lot of oxygen to digest and transform into usable energy – This means athletes have to carefully plan in advance when and how much fat to include in their diet. So for the athlete, it’s important for them to eat the correct fats (polyunsaturated and monounsaturated) at the right time and in the right moderation. Consuming fats within 30 minutes of exercise is one of the best ways of replenishing fat stores in the body.

Protein is essential for repairing and rebuilding muscle that has been broken down during exercise. Although protein can be used for fuel for exercise, it is not the most ideal source. Protein is found in most meats (chicken, turkey, beef etc.), and like fat, cannot be oxidised quickly enough to fuel high intensity exercise.

Many Protein supplements are currently on the market, yet there is no conclusive proof that they have a huge effect on exercise. Ideally, any successful protein supplement should have some sort of carbohydrate along with it. Some studies have shown that protein doesn’t improve exercise capacity when ingested before or during physical activity, but it can improve training efficiency. Research has also gone as far as saying the timing of protein intake for athletes is also crucial to effect on the athlete and exercise.

We can now see what are some of the most important parts of an athlete’s diet and how this can impact on their exercise.