Do you love to be physically active, or do you play a sport on a regular basis? Are you a runner or triathlete?
If you're active or you're interested in starting an active lifestyle, this article is for you.
Because you push your body to high-performance levels, you will need to eat more carbs and protein than someone who is sedentary.
Competition presents many challenges for athletes, but good nutrition is the basis for every victory. Here's a look at the top ten nutritional challenges for athletes, and how you can stay healthy.
1. Get Enough Protein
Protein intake is essential for athletes. Why? Because protein helps your muscles recover and grow stronger. When you work out, your muscles experience small tears that have to be repaired on a microscopic level.
Eating good proteins like fish, chicken, beans, eggs, and tofu provides the protein in your diet that will speed up this recovery. Many athletes like to have high-protein snacks after intense workouts to help their muscles recover as soon as possible.
Carbohydrate consumption will also help you improve performance and be a better athlete. It is important to consume vegetables, grains, different kinds of pasta, and fruits on a regular basis to get the carbs you need.
If you're planning to do strenuous exercise, like a long-distance race, you can "carb load" with a high carbohydrate (“carb-heavy”) meal the evening before. Many athletes also eat high-carb snacks throughout the day and after workouts to maintain their energy levels.
Drinking enough water throughout the day is especially important if you're active. Whether they're at a dance competition or track meet, athletes dehydrate very easily and are susceptible to heatstroke in hot weather- but even in cold temperatures, staying hydrated is critical for staying at your peak performance level.
How much water is “enough” for you? Generally, the U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine recommend 11.5 cups (2.7 liters) of fluid a day for women and 15.5 cups (3.7 liters) of fluid a day for men. And, because exercise makes you sweat, it’s also important to drink extra fluids before, during, and after your workout.
A good way to tell that you're properly hydrated is to look at your pee. If it's clear and you're going every few hours, you're properly hydrated. Dark or cloudy urine can mean that you need to drink more water or sports drinks.
4. Vitamins and Minerals
The best way to get your vitamins and minerals is through a balanced diet. This means you should be getting all your carbs, protein, fats, and sugars proportionally. You want to avoid over-consuming too much of any category, relative to what you need for your activity level.
If you're worried about a possible vitamin deficiency, talk to your doctor about what you're eating. They will be able to order blood tests to check on your vitamin levels and refer you to a sports nutritionist if you're missing any of the best nutrients for athletes.
5. Good Food and Supplements Can Be Expensive
If you would like to eat certain "health foods" or try nutritional supplements, you may find that they're a little bit pricey. If you're still in school or on a budget, affording them on a regular basis might not be practical.
Fortunately, you don't need to spend a lot to get good nutrition, if you know what you're looking for. Familiarizing yourself with the basic food groups will help you find cheap sources of protein and carbs that will satisfy your body's nutritional demands.
6. Finding Time to Eat
Being active may cramp your schedule, and if that's the case, you may struggle to find time for meals. There are ways to get around this, especially if you are a bit creative. Packing portable meals and snacks is one way to get the nutrition you need when you're on the go.
You can also look at your time commitments and communicate your needs with teachers and supervisors. It may mean scheduling more breaks at work or moving your classes around to accommodate times for meals and snacks. The best diet for athletes is what helps them maintain their energy balance and makes the most sense to them - so do what works for you!
7. Knowing What to Eat, and When
As an athlete, eating the right thing at the right time can make a difference in your energy levels and how well you perform. Among other things, you'll need to be sure to have the right amounts of carbs to sustain you on long endurance workouts, and enough protein to keep your muscles healthy.
The Mayo Clinic recommends that athletes:
- Eat a healthy breakfast that includes carbohydrates at least one hour before school or a workout
- Wait 1-3 hours after eating small meals or snacks and at least 3-4 hours after eating large meals before exercising
- Consider a carbohydrate-rich food or beverage during your workout if exercising longer that 60 minutes
- Eat a meal that contains carbs and proteins (such as fruit and yogurt or a peanut butter sandwich) within 2 hours post-workout to help your muscles recover and to replace their glycogen reserves
As for what foods to eat and the timing of your snacks and meals, you will figure it out - just be sure to eat enough calories about every four hours. One of the benefits of being active is that you can eat a lot more food, and enjoy it - without having to worry about your body weight or gaining weight that you don't want.
8. Supplement Use
Many athletes use nutritional supplements to enhance their nutrition and athletic performance levels. If you do this, proceed with caution.
It's always best to get your nutrients from whole food. If you do choose to go the supplement route, be sure to discuss these supplements with your healthcare professional and ensure you are consuming only the best, healthy, and safe ingredients.
9. Personal Health History
Personal health history can create unique nutritional challenges for athletes. It may make a difference in what you need to eat to perform at your athletic peak.
If you have any health concerns like blood pressure issues, hypoglycemia, or diabetes, be sure to go over your individual nutritional needs with your doctor, coach, or fitness instructor.
Many successful athletes have unique nutritional needs, and they all have found ways to excel in and thoroughly enjoy their sports.
10. Weight Issues
Bodyweight can play a huge role in sports performance, so if you're trying to gain or lose weight, you may need to adjust your diet accordingly. You always want to be sure to balance your energy intake with your activity levels to help you achieve your weight loss goals.
Getting to and maintaining the best weight for you is another topic you should discuss with your doctor and nutritionist, for the best results.
Stay Healthy and Stylish, No Matter Your Nutritional Challenges
Athletes deal with unique nutritional challenges that require careful attention. By educating yourself about good nutrition and following healthy eating habits, you'll be able to stay at the top of your game.
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