The Aid Station: What is Sports Nutrition?
Health, nutrition, and sports go hand in hand. It can be difficult to discern what is considered healthy when there are a plethora of influencers, marketing scams, and general toxicity in social media pushing people to act, dress, and behave in a certain way. What it is to be healthy can be hard to define, hard to understand, and it is often over shadowed by highlight reels. It seems obscure to look beyond weight and aesthetics when determining your health. However, it’s not these factors that matter, it’s WHAT constitutes your weight and how this impacts performance, because; after all, this is a discussion of SPORTS NUTRITION. Understanding body composition such as learning if you have too little muscle or too much fat can be a good place to start, but; again, these factors do not determine the impact on performance. It can be valuable to implement a strategy that allows for muscle gain and fat reduction which may lead to the number on the scale staying the same, however, you may be able to now jump higher, run longer, be less prone to injury, etc. These latter metrics are what are important, slimming down or looking different are side effects that may come along with these changes but should not be your main goal.
So, how do you eat to perform? What is a sports nutrition plan about?
Sports nutrition is not a diet plan. Sports nutrition differs from a regular nutrition plan because athletes require different amounts of nutrients compared to non-athletes. In order to perform optimally, you need to train hard and fuel your body appropriately. Sports nutrition is not about cutting out any whole food group or lowering calories to lose weight. A sports nutrition plan is primarily made to help fuel an athlete to perform at their highest level.
Eating to support your goal. If you want to build muscle it takes more than just upping your protein intake. Building muscle requires a combination of: resistance training, keeping a balanced energy state to encourage anabolic hormone production, a healthy distribution of nutrients to sustain tissue health, and adequate sleep. If you want to run longer or faster, you need glycogen. When the body needs a boost of energy or when the body isn’t getting glucose from food, glycogen is broken down to release glucose into our bloodstream to be used as fuel. We get glycogen from complex carbs like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Making sure we are eating enough calories through proper macronutrients aids in supporting these goals.
Timing of your meal consumption: When you consume the correct amount of macronutrients at the right times, you encourage MPS (muscle protein synthesis) and energy sustainability. Example: If you work out first thing in the morning, this means your last meal or snack was the night before. This should indicate to you that you most likely need a small meal or snack before beginning your workout. If you are working out later in the day, be sure you have eaten something no sooner that 3 hours before.
Do not skip meals or eat infrequently. Putting yourself into a pattern that fails to satisfy your energy requirements in real time is problematic. Skipping meals can lead to higher body fat levels, lower lean mass, and cardiovascular problems. Eating 3 meals and 2 snacks, spaced correctly throughout the day, has shown to satisfy the appetite, stabilize blood sugar levels, and aid in a more efficient metabolism.
Variety. It is not just about eating the right foods verses staying away from the wrong foods. Obviously, whole food sources are the best and the healthiest options for you to make but eating the same prepped/planned foods on a daily basis can put you at nutritional risk. There is no substitute for eating a wide variety of foods that are well-distributed throughout the day. Consuming plenty of seasonal fruits and vegetables helps to sustain good bacterial colonies that live in your gut.
Hydration. Having a balanced fluid amount is important for many reasons. When an athlete is dehydrated their blood volume is restricted, sweat rate is decreased (resulting in an increased core temperature), and muscle glycogen use begins to increase. Studies have shown that athletic performance can decrease by 2% when an athlete is dehydrated.
Recovery. Getting the proper amount of recovery from exercise is just as important as your workout and fueling yourself. You must give muscles an opportunity to recover from all the stress you have placed on them so that they can benefit from the exercise. Adequate sleep is important by helping to sustain appropriate eating behaviors and muscle recovery.
In conclusion, sports nutrition is important because it impacts performance. A proper nutrition plan aids athletes in achieving their specific goals in their sport. The plan can include when to eat, what to eat to perform, what to eat to prevent injury, what to eat to aid injury, and what to eat to recover properly.