Importance of diet in sport

If you are seriously into your sport, whether extreme or not, you have no doubt got very firm ideas on a particular ‘diet’ that suits you. You will know, without a doubt, that eating correctly will give you the energy you need and will help you achieve peak performances when you need it.

It is an important subject and one that I think warrants discussion.

  • Did you know, for example, that you can survive a month without food but only a few days without water?
  • Did you know that sugars and starches have 4 calories per gram, while fat has 9 calories per gram. In other words, carbohydrates have less than half the calories of fat?
  • Did you know that it is a myth that eating lots of protein and/or taking protein supplements and exercising vigorously will definitely turn you into a big, muscular person?

So I am going to dispel some myths and corroborate some facts!

WATER

Water is THE most important nutrient for active people. When you sweat, you lose water. This MUST be replaced. Drink fluids before, during, and after workouts.

Water is the best choice for most workouts. However, during continuous workouts of greater than 90 minutes, your body may benefit from a sports drink. Sports drinks have two very important ingredients – electrolytes and carbohydrates. They replace electrolytes lost through sweat during workouts lasting several hours. The carbohydrates in sports drinks provide the extra energy that you need. The most effective sports drinks contain 15 to 18 grams of carbohydrate in every 8 ounces of fluid.

CARBOHYDRATES ARE THE BODY’S MAIN SOURCE OF ENERGY

So – where else do you find carbohydrates?

Carbohydrates are sugars and starches, and they are found in foods such as breads, cereals, fruits, vegetables, pasta, milk, honey, syrups and table sugar.

Sugars and starches are broken down by your body into glucose, which is used by your muscles for energy. Sugars and starches have 4 calories per gram, while fat has 9 calories per gram. In other words, carbohydrates have less than half the calories of fat.

For health and peak performance, more than half your daily calories should come from carbohydrates.

If you regularly eat a carbohydrate-rich diet you probably have enough carbohydrate stored to fuel activity. However, if you are about to compete it would be a good idea to eat a precompetition meal for fluid and additional energy. What you eat as well as when you eat your precompetition meal will be entirely individual. You are the only one who knows what suits your body.

FROM CARBS TO THE DREADED CALORIES

Your calorie needs depend on your age, body size, sport and training program. The best way to make sure you are not getting too many or too few calories is to check your weight from time to time. If you’re keeping within your ideal weight range, you’re probably getting the right amount of calories.

VITAMINS AND MINERALS

Eating a varied diet will give you all the vitamins and minerals you need for health and peak performance.

The exceptions to this rule include active people who follow strict vegetarian diets, avoid an entire group of foods, or eat less than 1800 calories a day. If you fall into any of these categories, a multivitamin and mineral pill may provide the vitamins and minerals missing in your diet, but remember, taking large doses of vitamins and minerals will NOT help your performance and may be bad for your health.

Vitamins and minerals do NOT supply the body with energy and, therefore, are NOT a substitute for carbohydrates.

IRON

Popeye was not invented to con thousands of little children into eating their green vegetables! Iron supplies working muscles with oxygen. If your iron level is low, you may tire easily and not have enough stamina for activity.

The best sources of iron are animal products, but plant foods such as fortified breads, cereals, beans and green leafy vegetables also contain iron.

Iron supplements may have side effects, so take them only if your doctor tells you to.

YOU NEED CALCIUM EVERYDAY

Many people do not get enough of the calcium needed for strong bones and proper muscle function. Lack of calcium can contribute to stress fractures and bone disease such as osteoporosis.

The best sources of calcium are dairy products, but many other foods such as salmon with bones, sardines, collard greens, and okra also contain calcium. Additionally, some brands of bread, tofu, and orange juice are fortified with calcium.

FLEXING YOUR MUSCLES

And finally, it IS a myth that eating lots of protein and/or taking protein supplements and exercising vigorously will turn you into a big, muscular person.

Building muscle depends on your genes, how hard you train, and whether you get enough calories. A good balanced diet has more than enough protein for muscle building. Extra protein is eliminated from the body or stored as fat.

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