Nutrition is an important part of life, and a balanced diet is key to optimal health and wellness. Athletes in particular can benefit from specific meal plans to help optimize performance and maximize their training. If you are an athlete looking to sharpen your game, here are a few nutrition tips to get you started.
Hydration - How important is it?
Fluid does not come from water only; it comes from the food we eat (i.e. fruits and vegetables) and other beverages we drink (i.e. milk, tea, coffee, etc.) as well. In an athlete’s world, fluid intake plays a major role in training outcomes. In fact, training while dehydrated can have severe consequences:
- Blood becomes thicker and the heart strains to pump oxygen to muscles and organs
- Perceived exertion skyrockets and it becomes extremely difficult to push at the intensity needed to achieve results
- Glycogen stores (energy stores in the body) are used up faster, making training less efficient
- Dizziness, fatigue and decreased muscle strength sets in
- There is an increased risk of injury
Urine color can help tell you whether you are hydrated enough. However, another way to assess hydration is to weigh yourself before and after a training session. If there is weight loss, you should be drinking more during your training session. Electrolyte replenishment may be required with excessive sweat loss, especially when training in hotter temperatures.
Hydration is key, but do not overdo it! Carrying extra fluids in the system can weigh you down, causing other defects in performance.
Fuel - What are you putting into your body?
What you put into your body will dictate your performance results.
Aim to fuel your system every 2-3 hours with balanced snacks and meals containing whole food proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. This will help you maintain a consistent blood sugar level for energy, focus and fuel during the day.
Eating regularly helps protect and maintain body glycogen, a storage form of carbohydrate found in the muscle and liver. What happens when we train depleted? Our muscles and brain are deprived from their fuel source, causing an energy crash. Perceived exertion skyrockets, followed by poor concentration and accuracy. Ultimately, training on an empty tank leads to an elevated risk of concussions, tears, and fractures.
Adding protein at each eating occasion is vital in maintaining and building muscle. The quality of protein consumed also impacts muscle synthesis. Research indicates that protein with high biological value (containing high concentrations of essential amino acids) coming from animal and marine-based sources elicits muscle adaptation more efficiently. However, athletes that enjoy vegetarian or vegan-style diets can still produce similar results if their meals and snacks are planned and executed well, incorporating a variety of vegetable-based proteins.
Adequate protein is not only essential for building muscle! It helps repair and maintain body tissues, promoting a strong immune system, while slowing down digestion to promote even blood sugars and reduce cravings.
Recovery Nutrition - When is it warranted?
Post-exercise protein shakes and smoothies combining protein and digestible carbohydrates are a popular way to recover after training. However, not all individuals require a recovery shake. If you are sitting at a desk all day, then engage in planned exercise for about 60 minutes, you likely do not require an extra post-exercise shake on top of your regular meals and snacks. Aim to get your next planned meal or snack in within an hour of your exercise to help with recovery in this case.
Athletes with high-intensity training programs will require calculated recovery nutrition after training. This is due to the high-energy expenditure and often multiple structured training sessions they are required to do each day.
The protein to carbohydrate ratio is calculated based on the athlete’s body composition, goals, and intensity of training. The combination of protein and carbohydrate is essential in replenishing glycogen stores and muscle tissue strategically within 15-30 minutes of training. A simple example is a recovery smoothie made with frozen banana, plain Greek yogurt or protein powder and milk/milk alternative.
Rest - Why sleep 7-10 hours a night?
Athletes require more rest than average to promote optimal whole body recovery. Maintaining a regular bedtime and sleep routine will help your body get into a healthy sleep rhythm. Here are some tips to promote healthy sleep hygiene to support optimal performance:
- Avoid blue light from your iPhone, computer, and TV screens at least 1 hour before going to bed. The light emitted reduces melatonin release, compromising sleep quality. Try charging your phone outside the bedroom to avoid the impulse to look at it before drifting off.
- Try to avoid drinking a large volume of liquid just before bed to prevent waking up out of deep sleep to go the washroom in the middle of the night.
- Avoid alcohol before bed as it interrupts the quality of sleep, leaving you feeling more tired on the same amount of sleep.
Susan Sommerville is a Registered Nutritionist (RD) with Revive Wellness. She has a passion for gut health, sports nutrition and helping people find a sustainable way of eating that elevates their daily energy, endurance, and effectiveness! Susan believes that change will only come when we strive for something more than just a number on the scale.