For optimal performance, the athlete will spend hours perfecting her sport, meticulously analyzing every movement and tweaking each minute detail. While this pursuit of perfection will definitely get you far, it cannot take you all the way. Only proper nutrition can give you the fuel needed as an athlete to take your activity to the next level.
Carbohydrates are a crucial component of an athlete’s diet. In fact, the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports states that athletes should receive most of their nutrition from carbohydrates, about 55 to 60 percent of their diets. This is due to the fact that carbohydrates transform quickly into the body’s energy known as glucose. Without this energy, you will burn out quickly.
Protein is important for supporting muscle growth and regular body functions. Since the athlete puts extra strain on her body, she does need more protein than the average person. However, the need for more protein does not necessarily mean a diet change is in store for you. Protein is in nearly every food you eat. Protein should account for about 30 percent of your total nutritional intake, around 1.4 grams (g) of protein a day for female athletes and 1.6g for males.
Vitamins and Minerals
After an intense exercise or event, your body may be depleted of many important minerals. To combat this problem, try to eat five smaller meals a day with around 500 to 600 calories per meal. This will help keep the metabolism boosted and keep your body enriched with most of the necessary nutrients. Iron, unfortunately, is a little different than other easily attained minerals and vitamins. Due to an athlete’s increased red blood cell production and loss of iron through perspiration, you should take extra steps to ensure that an adequate amount of iron is in your diet. Women in particular are at risk of iron depletion. A woman requires 18mg of iron a day while a man only requires 8mg. Consider adding more fortified cereals, eggs, lean meats and spinach to your diet to meet your needs.
The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) suggests that meal timing, for an athlete, is almost as important as the meal itself. An hour to four hours before an event or workout, eat a few high carbohydrate foods. This will give you a good boost of energy. During the exercise, focus mostly on remaining hydrated. However, if the event lasts longer than 90 minutes, you will want to replace some carbohydrates. Sugary drinks can help fill both needs effectively. After the exercise focus more on eating a well balanced diet complete with carbs, proteins and, yes, even fats.