Nutrition and sports performance is a complex and essential relationship for serious sports men and women to understand and it can help them achieve success in their chosen sport. Sports nutrition also aids injury prevention and speeds up recovery times from an injury. The correct diet and fluid intake coupled with appropriate training is the difference between winning and losing. Fuelling the body with the right nutrition can be key to success.
Good sports nutrition promotes brain function and muscle activity. Physical training and performance requires the right diet (quantity and quality) that will provide the athlete with energy. Each sport has its own individual requirements as does each individual sports man and woman. These requirements dictate the nutritional demands of training and competition. Sports nutrition applies scientific methods to the applications of the sport to provide a diet that meets the needs of both athlete and discipline.
Sports performance is fundamentally affected by dehydration. The importance of water and fluid replacement in sports nutrition is paramount to supporting the activity of tissue cells in the body. These cells carry nutrients and oxygen around the body, eliminating toxins and removing excess body heat. During physical exercise, body heat increases and water is lost through evaporation or sweating. In hot environments, sports activity can attribute to sweat losses of 4-5 pints an hour. Water loss is partly offset by metabolic water produced from proteins, carbohydrates and fat metabolising in the body. However, sports nutrition dictates that hydrating the body properly requires fluid intake before, during and after activity.
A sports nutritionist will calculate fluid losses by measuring body weight before and after a session to determine how much fluid is required. Optimum levels should never be exceeded as overloading on fluids can lead to stomach discomfort and breathing difficulties during the activity. Modern sports nutrition recommends special carbohydrate-electrolyte drinks for intense activity that has a longer duration but water is typically recommended for low to moderate level activity.
A diet rich in carbohydrate and low in fat improves long-term and short-term sports performance. High-intensity exercise requires more carbohydrates to ensure the liver and muscle glycogen levels are high. High liver and muscle glycogen levels improve performance and glycogen present in the liver is a source of glucose for the brain (important for concentration, alertness and reaction time). A wide range of carbohydrates are required to ensure essential vitamins and minerals are present. Potatoes, bananas, pasta, bread, vegetables, cereals and porridge are a good source of carbs for sport.
Protein plays an important role in sports nutrition by building muscle and repairing it. Athletes should aim to eat a range of foods that will provide the necessary levels of protein. Foods such as lean meat, fish, eggs, beans and pulses, milk, yoghurt, cheese and cereals will provide protein needs. High protein sports nutrition does not necessarily lead to greater muscle mass as excess protein in the body is metabolised or excreted. The extra amount of food required for sport is usually enough to provide the correct intake of protein without resorting to increased portions or protein supplements. High-protein diets can be expensive and will decrease the bank balance before increasing muscle mass. A good sports nutritionist can ensure there are adequate nutrients and calories for an athlete to support the requirements of their sport.
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