Five nutrition tips for athletes

Athletes of all skill levels and ages—whether it be high school, middle school, collegiate or professional—have unique demands upon their bodies and unique needs for adequate nutrition and fluid consumption. Are you feeling tired or sluggish, noticing it takes longer to recover from games or workouts? The quick and easy solution may be as simple as improving your nutrition and hydration and getting an adequate amount of rest or recovery time.

One of the most important and often overlooked aspects of performing at the highest level in your sport relates to the proper fueling of your body with a focused nutrition and hydration plan. Think of the food that you eat as the fuel for your body, the engine.

The biggest barrier I often hear patients report as it relates to proper nutrition is lack of time for planning and preparation, along with difficulty implementing and then adhering to an effective nutrition program.

Some helpful tips include:

  • Breakfast is the most important meal of the day! Your mom was right when she told you not to skip breakfast. Your body needs to be charged and ready for the day and for your training or competition. Breakfast should be your largest meal of the day. Make sure to include the proper amount of carbohydrates, along with 12 to 16 ounces of water.
  • Fuel your body with carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are critical to an athlete’s optimal performance and are the preferred fuel during exercise. Athletes should not be consuming a “low-carb” Carbohydrates such as bread, rice, pasta, and fruits and vegetables should make up approximately 60 percent of total calories consumed (about 350 grams of a 2,200-calorie diet). This is the most efficient energy source, replenishing muscle glycogen stores utilized during exercise. Carbohydrates help you avoid hitting “the wall” and feeling sluggish during workouts.
  • Improve performance with protein. Protein is also an important aspect of an athlete’s diet and should make up about 15 percent (about 80 to 100 grams) of your diet. Good protein sources include meats such as chicken, turkey, lean red meat, eggs, cheese, yogurt and beans. Protein is utilized by our bodies to help stimulate muscle repair and growth.
  • Eat early, often and balanced. You should eat something within an hour of waking in the morning and then about every three hours afterward to help fuel your body while keeping your energy levels high. Utilize between-meal snacks such as fruit, yogurt, nuts and energy bars.
  • Stay hydrated and avoid too much caffeine. Fluid consumption is critical to proper performance and the avoidance of injuries and problems such as heat illness. Even as little as one to two percent dehydration can have a negative impact on performance. General guidelines include consuming 16 ounces of fluid/water two hours prior to participation, and five to 10 ounces every 15 to 20 minutes during exercise. For training or events lasting less than one hour, water is usually adequate. For longer events or practices, a sport drink with carbohydrates should be considered. Also, be cautious with the amount of caffeinated beverages consumed, which can also contribute to dehydration.

Building the perfect meal means finding the right amount or balance between carbohydrates, proteins and good fats in your diet. Making good food choices can have a significant and positive impact on your performance.

This blog post originally appeared on the Hincapie Racing blog.

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