Nutrition is important when it comes to optimizing training sessions and also with recovery and metabolic adaptation. Athletes need a balance of macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates and fats) as well as micronutrients through their diets. Food composition, nutrient timing, supplement use and energy balance are the factors that influence optimal fuelling. Additionally, athletes nutritional requirements may vary widely depending on sport, position, timing of season, and training vs rest day. Detrimental effects of inadequate fuelling through the day include hypohydration and loss of glycogen stores and/or lean muscle mass.
Pointers to keep in mind before planning fuelling
- Carbohydrates are an athlete’s primary fuel: Carbohydrates provide the central nervous system with most of its energy during a physical activity. Athletes have different carbohydrate requirements based on training intensity, along with workout type and timing. In general, athletes will need to consume 3 to 5 g per kilogram body weight daily for light activity and upward of 8 to 12 g per kilogram body weight per day for intense training, as per The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), International Society for Sports Nutrition (ISSN) and International Olympic Committee (IOC) recommendations.
- Drink plenty of fluids throughout the entire day: Approximately 60% of your body weight is water. While training or competing, athletes lose fluids through their skin (sweating) and lungs (breathing). Not replenishing this fluid regularly during practice or competition can cause dehydration. Don’t wait until you’re thirsty, and if you are feeling thirsty it means your body is already showing signs of dehydration. For optimal hydration you need to combine water and electrolyte-containing fluids.
- Improve performance with protein: Our bodies use protein to stimulate muscle repair and growth. Daily protein requirements of athletes range between 1.2 and 2.0 g per kilogram body weight per day depending on the intensity of their physical activity. Overall, athletes should consume approximately 20% to 30% of their calories from protein sources.
- Include good fats: Fat provides energy during endurance training. Fats are also essential for many processes in the body, including cell membrane structure, absorption of fat-soluble vitamins, hormone regulation, brain health and energy for muscle metabolism. The IOC recommends consuming 15% to 20% of your total calories from fats.
- Focus on Nutrient timing: Timing of nutrient intake depends on many factors, including the type of training (practice, strength, conditioning, or recovery), schedule and the individual athlete’s dietary preferences. Other variables include intensity and length of training, an active or recovery day and when the competition is. By implementing nutrition timing on when to eat what nutrient appropriately athletes can get the most out of their training. Energy balance with timing nutrient intake can up-regulate metabolism, shift hormonal profile, and alter body composition.
Fuelling for physical activity
Adequate fuel and hydration before, during, and after exercise is key to getting the most out of your training and optimize performance. Carb availability for the muscles and central nervous system is crucial for high-intensity intermittent workouts and longer aerobic exercise. Therefore, strategies that promote carbohydrate availability, such as ingesting carbohydrate before, during and after exercise, are critical for the performance of many sports.
Consuming optimal amounts of nutrients before exercise will maximize your performance and minimize muscle damage. Glycogen is the form in which the body processes and stores glucose, mainly in the liver and muscles. For short- and high-intensity exercise, the glycogen stored in your muscles provides most of the energy. For prolonged exercises, however, the degree of carbohydrate use depends on many other factors, such as the intensity, type of training and your overall diet. Fat is the source of fuel for longer and moderate-to-low-intensity exercise. To maximize the results of your training, try to eat a complete meal containing carbs, protein and fat 2–3 hours before you exercise or a carbohydrate snack 30 to 1 hour before your physical activity.
Fluid needs during exercise depend on how intense and long your workout is, weather conditions, and how much you sweat. It is recommended that you drink 100 to 200 ml of fluid every 15–20 minutes during your workout. If you are going to be exercising intensely for more than 60 minutes, include electrolyte-containing beverages to replenish the electrolytes lost in sweat. For prolonged and high-intensity activities you can combine a carbohydrate snack or a carbohydrate electrolyte beverage to replenish the glycogen stores and prevent blood glucose from dropping low. Protein/essential amino acid supplementation during certain types of skill sessions has also proved to prevent muscle damage and optimize recovery.
After exercise the primary goals of recovery should be to provide sufficient fluid, electrolytes, energy and carbohydrates to replace muscle glycogen stores and facilitate recovery. The addition of proteins can provide amino acids for the maintenance and repair of muscle protein. Protein prevents protein breakdown and stimulates synthesis, leading to increased or maintained muscle tissue for better recovery, adaptation, and performance.
Disclaimer: The contents of this article are for general information and educational purposes only. It neither provides any medical advice nor intends to substitute professional medical opinion on the treatment, diagnosis, prevention or alleviation of any disease, disorder or disability. Always consult with your doctor or qualified healthcare professional about your health condition and/or concerns before undertaking a new healthcare regimen including making any dietary or lifestyle changes.