Food & Drink For Athletes

Food & Drink For Athletes

While a healthy diet and nutrition program is beneficial for all it is an absolute necessity for athletes and anyone who wants to get the most from exercise. Nutrients provide us with sustenance to survive. Calories are the measure of energy in foods. Those who burn more calories, require more calories. Nutrient dense foods provide the necessary vitamins and minerals while providing necessary calorie levels. It is also important for athletes to maintain hydration. Fluid, especially water, is important in all bodily functions and must be maintained since most of our cells and blood consist of water.

Nutrients serve specific functions for the body. Carbohydrates come from plant sources and provide quick energy. That is, carbohydrates are the first energy source used by the body. Whatever carbohydrates are not used for daily sustenance is converted to fat.

Fats also provide energy. Fats are made up of fatty acids that are long chains of molecules. There are two types of fats, saturated and unsaturated. Saturated fats have single bonds while unsaturated fats have double bonds holding the molecules together. Triglycerides are a type of fat that produces energy for the body, or are stored as adipose tissue if not used.

Proteins are a third type of nutrient composed of strings of amino acids. Proteins are necessary for muscle and organ development, a healthy immune system and build neurotransmitters. Proteins are found in legumes, soy, meat and dairy products.

Athletes need to focus on types of nutrients and fluids to maximize performance. Since carbohydrates and fats are the body’s energy source these nutrients are important for athletes. Pre-exercise meals should consist of a high percentage of easily digestible carbohydrates such as fruits and vegetables. A small amount of protein such as an egg is also a good idea to maintain muscle. If exercise is performed early in the morning, fruits and an egg is a perfect breakfast to keep up energy levels if exercise is performed in the evening, a light lunch of leafy greens accompanied by a small portion of fish is an ideal meal.

After a workout the body needs to build up what was burned off. Eating within two hours of the workout replaces glycogen. Eating both carbohydrates and proteins after exercise builds up glycogen levels. Research has found that a 4:1 ratio of carbohydrate to protein effectively replenishes glycogen. Sports drinks can offer glycogen replacement and hydration and are easy to digest shortly after a workout.

Maintaining fluid levels must be done consistently throughout the day, before, during and after exercise. Water is best before exercise as it is calorie free and needed for fluid levels. Depending on the length of time for the workout, either water or a sports drink should be consumed during exercise. Short workouts typically require hydration an average of every 15 minutes. Workouts between 60 and 90 minutes drain the body of nutrients and the body may require electrolyte and mineral replenishment. For workouts longer than 90 minutes the body will generally be depleted of carbohydrate storages. Either the body needs to be replenished with more carbohydrates or fat stores to be used. After the workout drink as much fluid needed to replenish that lost through perspiration.

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