A Guide to Sports Nutrition

For optimal and enduring health, the body needs to keep moving. Physicians recommend that people get a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate exercise every week to maintain good health. People could also opt for 75 minutes of vigorous exercise every week to satisfy professional recommendations. Eating well is crucial to ensure that the body has the fuel it needs to exercise and stay active. Athletes participating in sports and physical activities must pay close attention to sports nutrition for optimal performance. Foods consumed become the fuel needed by the body for physical activity.

All components of the body require energy to function, including muscles and organs. This energy comes from foods consumed. During digestion, acids and enzymes combine with foods to break down the nutrients. Different foods provide the body with different nutrients. Carbohydrates and fats provide the body with energy. Carbohydrates break down into glucose, which the body uses for energy. Both the stomach and the small intestine absorb and release glucose into the bloodstream. Once glucose hits the bloodstream, it converts into energy for immediate or later use. The glucose stored for later use converts into glycogen, and the liver and muscles store it for the body to use when it needs energy. The body uses proteins for building and completing specific functions. Vitamins and minerals assist with energy production, immune function, and preventing oxidative damage in the body. After physical activity, vitamins and minerals are involved with tissue and muscle repair.

A diet rich in healthy foods and nutrients is crucial for anyone wanting to perform well in any type of physical activity. Athletes who want to excel must pay special attention to their diets. An athlete should strive for a caloric ratio of between 55 and 60 percent carbohydrates, 10 and 15 percent protein, and no more than 30 percent fat. Failing to provide the body with the fuel it needs will make it difficult to perform well and attain optimal athletic potential. Injury and fatigue are two common results of inadequate sports nutrition. One of the most common times for injuries to occur for athletes is in the final 20 minutes of a sports event or game. Researchers hypothesize that injuries occur at this time due to the onset of fatigue. The body "hits the wall" as fuel depletes, and the athlete cannot continue at the desired level because of a lack of energy.

Pre-competition eating is an important part of successful sports nutrition. An athlete should consume a meal that is high in carbohydrates prior to an athletic event. Carbohydrates will provide fuel for the activity as well as important hydration. The pre-competition meal should be low in fat because fat digests slowly. This meal should contain a small amount of lean protein: Too much protein could lead to dehydration in the athlete. Every person has a different physiological response to high-carbohydrate foods. Some people may experience an insulin spike after eating some foods high in carbohydrates. Experimentation with foods and the body's response will help an athlete fine-tune their pre-competition nutrition for optimal performance.

Hydration is another crucial component of optimal performance. An athlete who becomes dehydrated will not be able to continue at the same level of activity due to fatigue. During the hours prior to an event, the athlete should drink water at regular intervals. Hydration is particularly important during the three hours immediately prior to an event. While performing, the athlete should drink approximately 4 ounces of water every 15 minutes to maintain hydration. Rehydrating after the event is also crucial to replace fluids lost from perspiration.

After a performance, the body needs to refuel to replace the expended energy. The body will need more carbohydrates to replace the glucose used during the activity. Muscles will need protein for repair. Within about 30 minutes of physical activity, the athlete should have a complete meal or a large snack. The athlete should eat again not more than two hours later to continue refueling the body.

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