Nutrition can help enhance athletic performance. An active lifestyle and exercise routine, along with eating well, is the best way to stay healthy.
Eating a good diet can help provide the energy you need to finish a race, or just enjoy a casual sport or activity. You are more likely to be tired and perform poorly during sports when you do not get enough:
The ideal diet for an athlete is not very different from the diet recommended for any healthy person.
However, the amount of each food group you need will depend on:
To help you perform better, avoid exercising on an empty stomach. Everyone is different, so you will need to learn:
Carbohydrates are needed to provide energy during exercise. Carbohydrates are stored mostly in the muscles and liver.
You need to eat carbohydrates before you exercise if you will be exercising for more than 1 hour. You might have a glass of fruit juice, a cup of yogurt, or an English muffin with jelly.
During exercise, you also need carbohydrates. You can satisfy this need by having:
After exercise, you need to eat carbohydrates to build the storage back up in your muscles.
Protein is important for muscle growth and to repair body tissues. Protein can also be used by the body for energy, but only after carbohydrate stores have been used up.
But it is also a myth that a high-protein diet will promote muscle growth.
Most Americans already eat almost twice as much protein as they need for muscle development. Too much protein in the diet:
Often, people who focus on eating extra protein may not get enough carbohydrates, which are the most important source of energy during exercise.
Amino acid supplements and eating a lot of protein are not recommended.
WATER AND FLUID
Water is the most important, yet overlooked, nutrient for athletes. Water and fluids are essential to keep the body hydrated and at the right temperature. Your body can lose several liters of sweat in a 1-hour period.
Clear urine is a good sign that you have fully rehydrated. Some ideas for keeping enough fluids in the body include:
Offer children water often during sports activities. They do not respond to thirst as well as adults.
Teenagers and adults should replace any body weight lost during exercise with equal amounts of fluids. For every pound you lose while exercising, you should drink 24 ounces or 3 cups of fluid within the next 6 hours.
ACHIEVING DESIRED WEIGHTS FOR COMPETITIVE PURPOSES
Changing your body weight to improve performance must be done safely or it may do more harm than good. Keeping your body weight too low, losing weight too quickly, or preventing weight gain in an unnatural way can have negative health effects. It is important to set realistic body weight goals.
Young athletes who are trying to lose weight should work with a registered dietitian. Experimenting with diets on your own can lead to eating disorders and poor eating habits.
Speak with a health care professional to discuss a diet that is right for your sport, age, gender, and amount of training.
Bonci L. Nutrition, pharmacology, and psychology in sports. In: DeLee JC, Drez D Jr, Miller MD, eds. DeLee and Drez's Orthopaedic Sports Medicine. 3rd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders Elsevier; 2009:chap 8.
Position of the American Dietetic Association, Dietitians of Canada, and the American College of Sports Medicine: Nutrition and Athletic Performance. Journal of the American Dietetic Association. March 2009. 109(3);509-527.
Updated by: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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