An athlete needs energy and a balanced intake of all nutrients to support exercise in training and race. However, his/her diet cannot be compared to “couch potatoes” or mildly active subjects. More so, some nutrients and when you get them, may have a real impact on your fitness, an impact that could be stronger during training.
Sports nutrition has these main objectives:
- To support workouts and races with proper energy
- To favour muscular recovery
- To protect the immune system and to prevent injuries
- To Maintain the optimal body homeostasis
- To provide the right hydration
To ensure that these goals are met it is of the essence to master the key nutrients and also when and how use them.
They are the favorite energy source of our muscles, and for this reason they cannot lack in the proper diet of an athlete. Carbohydrates, however, are not all born equal, and it is important to know them to get the most benefits.
Fast-absorbing, high GI, carbohydrates, such as glucose or fructose, contained in sports gels, honey or fruit juices are advantageous if used immediately before, during or immediately after training, as they are used quickly for energetic purposes and to promote the storage of muscular glycogen immediately after training. But when you are not training, they could lead to glycemic peaks, lack of energy and increase of body fat.
On the other hand, slow-release, low GI, carbohydrates, such as those contained in whole grains and products made with them, being rich in fibre and proteins, slow down gastric emptying provoking a greater sense of satiety, helping to limit glycemic peaks and their lipogenetic effect.
They are the bricks that make up our muscles and have a fundamental role in post-exercise recovery, as they encourage our adaptation to the training regime.
Our body is not able to use high amounts of proteins all at once, and for this reason it is important to distribute the protein intake in meals and snacks during the day, starting from breakfast.
In post training, to encourage faster recovery, it may be advantageous to replace protein foods with liquid foods or protein powders, both more easily digestible by our gut.
- Vitamins and Antioxidants
Intense training could stress our immune system and increases the risk of skeletal muscle injury and bacterial or viral infections. For this reason an athlete has an increased need for vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, contained in a wide variety of foods mainly of plant origin. For this reason it is important to increase the consumption of vegetables, fruits and seeds, before switching to supplements. Supplements are the help of last resort, to be considered in case of deficiencies, or for special benefits. A multivitamin pill can never provide a good amount of bioactive compounds such as that contained in food, and the trivial reason is its size too small.
In case of a deficiency of a specific micronutrient we will integrate only that or a few others, which in this case can be inside a pill.
Remember that the instants immediately after training are one when our immune system is more vulnerable: no better time for a nice portion of fruit or fresh juice!
- And fats?
Do not delete them from your diet, but choose the right ones. Increase the consumption of vegetable oils and seeds, rich in energy, minerals and antioxidant-acting molecules such as mono and polyunsaturated fatty acids. Don't be afraid to get fat: the lipogenetic stimulus is more the child of hyperglycemia and an excess of refined flours!
- Don’t forget water
Water is a key nutrient for an athlete and hydration is crucial for your performance. You can drink water in good quantity during the day but remember that water and salts are contained also in food. Prefer fresh food, rich in water and consume a wide variety of food to ensure also you get a good amount of mineral salts.
Author: Francesca Deriu (NutritiCoach)