Sports Nutrition Explained: Why is Sports Nutrition so Important & Everything Else You Need to Know About It
First Things First: What Is The Meaning Of Sports Nutrition?
'Sports nutrition,' as the name suggests and as one quick, simple google search will tell you, is the practice of nutrition and diets specifically designed to cater to people involved in intense athletic performances.
Nutrition and diet, at a very granular level and to put it in layman terms, make up for who we are. No matter what your individual goals in life may be, for general fitness or otherwise, they can only seldom be achieved if not fuelled by a specialized diet.
On those lines, in terms of sports and nutrition, it hence only becomes imperative for athletes and for sportsmen to follow a strict and regulated diet. The said specialized diet and an understanding of sports nutrition courses are important for sportsmen not only to perform but also to train and to recover.
The Importance Of Sport Diet Plans In Sports Nutrition: You Are What You Eat!
Before we get to the correlation between sports and nutrition, let's get this out of the way: There can never be one generalized sport diet or meal plan to accommodate sportsmen of all kinds and types.
This is for the simple reason that not all bodies, requirements, and needs are the same. While Mr. X, at 65 kg, a 33-year-old man may be a professional sportsman fighting the race to the Olympics, Mr. Y may just be a 40 kg, 13-year-old school champion who wouldn't need a sport diet as regulated as Mr. X - albeit a sportsman on his own level!
However, as a general rule of thumb that does apply to all sportsmen, one should about two hours before exercising. Like everything that goes inside the body of an athlete, this said meal should also be well-planned.
The best sports diet would be the one that ensures a high carbohydrate content, low-fat content, and low to moderate protein content. The composition is advised to be so because while carbohydrates render all the energy you'd need in your session, protein then helps aid muscle growth and repair the post-session body tension.
This is also why you would have noticed sportsmen or even bodybuilders gulping down a big tumbler of protein shake post-training!
All of our energy comes from the food we eat: carbohydrates, fats, and protein. In terms of kcals, 1 g of fat provides 9 kcal, 1 gram of protein 4 kcal, and 1 g of carbohydrates 4 kcal.
- Carbohydrates are the powerhouse of energy; consider them the mitochondria of your body, pushing you to not give up and ensuring none to minimal muscle fatigue.
- Fats supply the essential fatty acids that also work as a source of energy in training sessions lasting longer than an hour. (Yes, not all fat is bad!)
- Proteins, apart from just providing energy, are also supremely critical for sportsmen as they help build and repair muscle tissues.
Having said that, while it is a standardized rule to consume carbohydrates and protein before a session, the proportions of these nutrients will again vary depending on the intensity/ type of sport as well as one's individual body type and requirements.
Now that we have the basics out of the way, let's dwell in details- shall we?
Sport Diet Macronutrients: Carbohydrates, Fats & Proteins Explained
Carbohydrates In Sport Diet
One of the most infamous and looked down on, carbohydrates aren't really as bad as you may have been led to believe they are. There mainly are two types of carbohydrates; starchy or complex carbohydrates, and simple sugar carbohydrates.
- Simple sugar carbs are the kind of carbs that are found primarily in packed and factory-refined products like bread, cereals, chips, chocolates, cookies, etc. In naturally existing food items, simple sugar carbs can particularly be found in products such as white sugar, brown sugar, honey, molasses, maple syrup, etc. Think of all the sweet and tasty food items when you think of simple sugar carbs.
- Complex carbohydrates or 'starches', on the other hand, are found in the grain-oriented food groups and include items like beans, oats, bread, pasta, rice, wheat, etc.
Diet For Sports Persons: What Kind Of Carbohydrates Should Sportsmen Consume?
Both simple and complex carbohydrates may be beneficial in the sports diet of a sportsman, albeit if they are consumed from the right source. It may be obvious that simple sugar carbohydrates derived from natural products like honey and brown sugar should always be preferred as against packed items like cookies and chocolates.
Similar to simple sugars, complex carbohydrates that are unrefined like sweet potatoes, oatmeal, 100 percent whole-wheat bread should always be preferred by sportsmen as against processed refined grains like white flour and white rice.
It should be noted here that all the sugar we consume (naturally existing sugar or added sugar) is broken down by the body in the same way. Both simple and complex carbohydrates are turned to glucose (blood sugar) in the body and are used as energy.
"The best sports diet would be the one that limits sugar consumption only to naturally occurring sugar since such foods also come with the additional benefit of fibers. "
For example, a bar of chocolate and a box of strawberries may have the same amount of sugar; but the sugar consumed from chocolate can be defined as empty calories while the sugar consumed from strawberries will also have an added punch of fruit-supplied fibers, vitamins, and minerals.
How Much Carbohydrate Should A Sport Diet Include?
High-Intensity Workout: Since sportsmen on a strict sports nutrition diet would naturally be involved in high-intensity training and workouts, (1-3 hrs per day) 6-10 g of carbohydrate per kg of body weight is advised. If you are an endurance athlete involved in extreme workouts (2-5 hrs per day), the grams then increase to 8-12 g per kg of body weight.
Fats In Sport Diet
If carbohydrates can be regarded as infamous, fats can be explained as one of the most misunderstood macronutrients, especially when part of a sports diet. People often invest all their effort in consuming a low-fat diet, only seldom realizing the highly important role played by fats in terms of absorption of nutrients.
It is true that large amounts of fats cause weight gain and amplifies the risk of diseases, however, when consumed in regulated amounts fat can act as a great source of energy!
Fats, like carbohydrates, are also of two types namely saturated fats and unsaturated fats.
- Saturated fats are found in animal-derived food products and in processed food products such as cheese, milk, sausages, chips, ice creams, etc.
- Unsaturated fats, on the other hand, are found in foods from plants like avocados, nuts, & olives and in vegetable oils like sunflower oil. A non-vegetarian source of unsaturated fats could be oily fishes like herring, pilchards, mackerel, salmon, and trout.
It should be noted that the human body uses the stored fat for low-intensity exercises like walking but requires an active fat supply for high-intensity training. Not only do fats catalyze fat absorption but also help build the cell membrane structure, bone marrow, and brain tissues.
Diet for Sports Persons: What Kind Of Fats Should Sportsmen Consume?
It is highly important for sportsmen to diligently consume fat and to minimize (if not evade) the consumption of saturated fats. Saturated fats are considered highly unhealthy for the heart and are known to amplify bad cholesterol (LDL) levels.
Unsaturated fats, on the other hand, are considered safe and are advised for inclusion in siet for sports persons by virtue of being 'heart-healthy.' Unsaturated fats can help sportsmen by lowering bad cholesterol levels and improving your good cholesterol levels HDL.
How Much Fat Should A Sport Diet Include?
Unlike carbohydrates and proteins, one can't pinpoint the ideal fat intake in a sport diet. A great diet plan for athletes would be the one that represents 35% fat as daily energy intake.
Proteins In Sport Diet
Protein is an integral part of all of our body cells and also the key macronutrient when it comes to muscle, tissue formation, and repair. Hence, protein intake is highly important not only in diets for sports persons but for everybody.
A deficiency of protein can cause some rather serious long-term ailments like muscle damage, prolonged injuries, and illness of sorts. Protein is also used by our bodies for the production of enzymes & hormones amongst various chemicals and for a solid formation of bones, muscles, cartilage, skin, and blood.
Protein is found in abundance in foods like fish, meat of all types, nuts, soy, pulses, cereals, and nuts.
It should be noted that, unlike carbs and fats, protein is not used by the human body as a source of energy and is instead used for the repairing, recovery, growth, and strengthening of the muscles.
When it comes to sports and nutrition, it should be understood that since athletes are actively involved in high-intensity training causing frequent muscle wear and tears, a protein-heavy diet is a must to sustain muscle growth.
As a sportsman, it is important to maintain a ''positive protein balance,'' which means, to consume a sport diet that leaves you with more protein than what your body will be using during vigorous physical activities.
Diet For Sports Persons: How Much Protein Should A Sport Diet Include?
A great diet plan for athletes would aim for at least 1.2 – 1.4 g of protein per kg of body weight when involved in intensive training that involves weights; 1.6 -2.0 grams of protein per kg of body weight when involved in resistance sports or resistance training.
When it comes to the consumption of protein in a sports diet, more than just the adequate amount of consumption itself, it is also important to make sure that you evenly distribute the protein intake throughout the day and to never have it in one go.
The rule of thumb is to consume 20 – 25g of protein per meal or snack (3 main meals + 2 snacks) as our muscles use small amounts of protein throughout the day. It must also be noted that 'more proteins = more muscles' is an absolutely baseless myth.
If you consume more protein, your body will just use it as an energy source. Muscles can only be built with a strict diet and a disciplined exercise regime followed over a period of time.
Sports and Nutrition: The Role Of Supplements & Hydration In Sports Nutrition
Now that we have understood the role played by the three main macronutrients in sports nutrition, let's take a quick look at how supplements and hydration, as a part of a sports nutrition course, boost athletic performance.
Supplements, as the name suggests, are supplementary items consumed by athletes, sportsmen, and bodybuilders; in supplement and in addition to the basic diet.
Available in numerous forms, supplement consumption, especially as a part of a sports nutrition course, should be a well-thought-through decision and should only be done post consultation with an accredited sports dietitian.
The consultation with an expert is important as they will be able to assess and present to you a plan most suitable for your needs.
What Are Some Examples of Sports Supplements?
The most common posts supplements include Creatine and Whey protein. Creatine is a high-energy compound available naturally in the body but often required in additional volumes by sportsmen to aid muscle strength and explosive power.
Hence, as a part of a sports nutrition course, creatine helps generate the kind of energy your body would need in order to perform for long hours and to not let you feel tired or weighed down.
Whey protein, on the other hand, is a naturally occurring protein found in milk. Whey, on its own, is a complete protein and contains all essential amino acids required in an average daily diet.
Furthermore, whey comes in handy as a part of a sports diet because it also contains a branch chain of amino acids (BCAAs), which are the first to be used by the body during intensive training sessions.
Having said "you are what you eat," a human body is 70% water and that itself should help understand the importance of hydration. As a sportsman, maintaining adequate levels of hydration in the system is necessary not only for boosted physical performance but also for a healthy brain and mental performance.
This is for the simple reason that the more you sweat, the more water you lose out on and hence, the need for frequent water replenishment.
Though 2 liters is generally recommended for an average person per day, the number of liters cannot be generalized when it comes to sport diet or the diet of athletes and sportsmen.
As a person involved in high-intensity workouts and training, you will need to consume water in a manner such that it makes up for all the fluid lost in sweat. As a sportsman, aim to be hydrated at all times and not just to drink water when you feel thirsty.
Isotonic drinks are also often recommended in sports nutrition courses as they contain similar concentrations of salt and sugar as in the human body. Isotonic drinks also help boost carbohydrates and replace fluids lost in sweat.
Moreover, the electrolytes present in isotonic drinks further stimulate thirst and enhance the body’s ability to hold water. Home-made isotonic drinks are recommended more than expensive, store-bought isotonic drinks.
Final Thoughts: Why Is Sports Nutrition So Important
All said and done, it must now be easy to understand the correlation between sports and nutrition and why special sports nutrition courses are recommended for those involved in high-intensity training, workouts, and performance.
Three key takeaways-
1.Consume a carbohydrate-rich diet two hours before each session for a boosted supply of energy
2.Hydrate your body thoroughly, regularly, and adequately throughout the day (and especially after workout sessions)
3.Focus on well-planned balanced diets that supply all the nutrition your body needs to fuel your goals
As a sportsman, making informed decisions about what you put in your body along with the exercises you do should be the only way forward. Remember the mantra 'you are what you eat,' and never put something in your body that does not align with your goals.
The right kind of sports diet is not only important for enhanced performance but also for injury prevention and quick recovery. All body types are different and it is only the help of a professional nutritionist and a professional sports nutrition course that can perhaps aid your decisions and take you a step closer to your goals.
(There are quite a few sports nutrition courses in India to choose from if you do a quick search.) Looking to make the most of your sports regime by complementing it with a specialised, great diet plan made for athletes?
Reach out to Nutrition By Loveneet and let’s start the journey together!
- What is sports nutrition?
Sportsmen, athletes, and all involved in high-intensity physical exercises are recommended to take a specialized diet that can cater to their daily requirement of nutrition. Sports nutrition, on those lines, is a nutrition and diet custom-made for sportsmen to help them improve their athletic performance.
- What foods should sportsmen avoid?
It is recommended for sportsmen to stay clear of any food that is detrimental to their performance and to stick to a diet curated for their needs by a nutritionist/ dietician. Some of the big food no-no’s for sportsmen include foods like soda, sports drinks, excessive carbohydrates, foods with saturated fats, alcohol, and excessive caffeine.
- What nutrients are important in a sport diet?
Calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, selenium, sodium, and zinc are the most important nutrients for athletes and sportsmen, offering various benefits ranging from strong bones to higher endurance.