Nutrition is always a hot button issue when it relates to athletes and overall performance. What an athlete eats or drinks before, after, and during a competition can have a great effect on the scope of their performance. With the modern athlete realizing the extreme importance in recovery, post-competition fueling is of extreme importance in elite athletes looking to increase their athletic performance.
Pre-Competition meals should be a good source of energy and hydration. This is needed to maintain adequate nutrition to manage and maximize blood glucose levels and stored glycogen levels while allowing the athlete to perform at their peak levels free of hunger pains and gastrointestinal stress.
All pre-competition meals should take into consideration timing, nutrient and fluid composition, the sport, and athlete preferences. In order to avoid gastrointestinal stress, the time proximity to competition should be considered. The closer the time period to competition the smaller the quantities of food and fluid that should be consumed prior to performance.
You can also advise the athlete to avoid high fat and high fiber foods prior to competition as they can slow digestion. The digestion process can lead to stomach cramps during competition.
Nutrition is a vital component during competition. Proper hydration, especially during competition, is essential for performance. It also helps prevent overheating, dehydration, and heat illness. Athletes should make it a habit of hydrating several hours prior to exercises and events. This allows for maximal fluid absorption; the athlete should consume enough fluid during competition to avoid water weight losses exceeding 2% of body weight.
The optimal sports drink contains 20-30 mEq of sodium per liter, 2-5 mEq of potassium per liter, and a carbohydrate concentration of 5-10%. Sports drinks with a carb concentration of more than 8% can cause gastrointestinal stress.
The goal of the post-competition meal is to help the athlete rehydrate, replenish blood glycogen, and repair muscle tissue. Therefore, what the athlete consumes post competition is vital as it prepares the body for the next competition event. Individual needs can vary based on sport, but it is vital that the athlete replace fluid and electrolyte losses after competition. Meals, snacks, and water can restore fluid and electrolyte levels.
Protein is the primary structural component of every cell in the body. Protein is used for growth and development, while building and repairing cells. It is essential for maintaining health, reproduction, and cell structure and function.
Protein is an essential nutrient for a variety of reasons. While the primary focus is on the muscle-building effects of protein, it’s essential for physical performance because of its role in building and repairing muscles
When you do not consume enough calories and protein from your food, your body uses its own protein (muscles) to make up for the lack of fuel. Therefore, you may not have the energy and protein you need to perform at your best.
- Choose a variety of foods including seafood, lean meat, poultry, eggs, beans, soy, nuts and seeds.
- Replace protein foods higher in solid fats with choices that are lower in solid fats and calorie content.
Athletes require more than the recommended dietary Allowance (RDA) for protein to build and repair muscle. Depending on the sport 1.0 to 1.7g per kg bodyweight of protein is recommended.
Carbohydrates are your primary source for quick-burn energy. They are broken down into two categories: simple and complex. Simple carbs come from white breads, sugar, soda, juices, and chips. Complex carbs are higher in good fiber resulting in their slower breakdown for a more sustained energy release. Complex carbs are used more efficiently in your body and are less likely to convert into fat).
- Reduce intake of calories from sugars
- Increase Vegetable intake
- Make your diet more colorful – Eat a variety of vegetables (beans, peas, green, red, orange, etc.)
When you exercise, your body burns through the carb energy first and very quickly. To sustain performance, you need alternative fuel sources. Fats come in handy here and provide long-burning, sustained reserve energy to keep you going. Fifteen to twenty percent of your daily intake of calories should come from unsaturated fats.
- Consume less than 10% of calories from saturated fats
- Avoid Trans fats
- Reduce intake from solid fats
Challenging athletes to take nutrition seriously can drive them to greater levels of athletic performance. While the info stated above is not intended to be all inclusive, it can serve as a great jump start to create a better nutritional environment for your athletes to realize their athletic nutrition goals.
Michael Piercy, MS, CSCS is the owner of The LAB in Fairfield, New Jersey. He is the recipient of the 2017 IDEA Personal Trainer of the Year award and has also been awarded the 2013 TRX FACEUP award for Overall Instructor of the Year. He represents brands such as Under Armour, TRX® and Matrix fitness as a Master Trainer. A former professional baseball player with the Pittsburgh Pirates, New York Mets and Montreal Expos, he brings his unique perspective to his work with athletes and active adults. He holds a master’s degree in exercise science with a concentration in performance enhancement and also holds multiple advanced level Certifications from organizations such as ACE, ACSM, NASM and NSCA.