The importance of sports nutrition

Sports nutrition means nutritional strategies that are specifically put in place to aid the performance of an athlete. This can help the athlete prepare and recover from both training and competition. The goal of sports nutrition is to supply the right food type, energy, nutrients and fluid so that the athlete can optimise their performance. 

Nutrition and hydration are both key for performance. They are what fuels your body to move. A little like putting petrol in your car. Having the right fuel is key, you wouldn't put diesel in a petrol car!

Nutrition provides the source of energy for an athlete to perform an activity.

Eating the right food will impact both performance and recovery for both training and competition. Staying optimally hydrated reduces the risk of injury and muscle fatigue. Both key markers in sports performance. 

The basic principles of sports nutrition 

Sports nutrition consists of three basic principles. But how they look for each person may be completely different to the next, depending on the goal of the sport. The three principles include:

  • fuelling - providing the body with sustenance from food to enhance performance through stamina, strength and clarity.
  • hydration - preventing dehydration and fatigue, whilst optimising muscle performance. 
  • recovery - to aid optimal recovery after exercise. 

How can we put this into practice?

Sports nutrition isn’t just reserved for elite athletes and marathon runners, anyone keen to understand and elevate their fitness can benefit from sports nutrition.

Hydration and fuelling strategies vary tremendously depending on the type of event you are participating in, so using the above key principles, let’s take a look at what sports nutrition might look like for the average gym-goer and a marathon runner. 

The average gym-goer

For the average gym-goer, fuelling might consist of an ‘average healthy diet’. For example:

Hydration is also important, aiming for a minimum of two litres of fluid per day. It would be advisable to have a high carbohydrate snack an hour or so before the session such as two slices of wholemeal toast, rice cakes with jam, a bagel with jam, especially if you haven’t eaten for over three hours. This will help fuel the workout. 

After the workout, aim to have a meal (usually either lunch or dinner) within two hours, containing a mix of carbohydrates and protein to help the body recover. The carbohydrate will restock spent energy stores (glycogen) and the protein will help repair damaged muscle fibres. 

The average gym-goer might be going to the gym three to four times a week, so basic sports nutrition principles should suffice. 

Illustration of woman with weights and healthy food

Elite marathon runner

Regarding an elite marathon runner, the principles of sports nutrition would change slightly. Fuel wise, you’d need to eat more calories in general, as you'll be training more often and potentially at a higher intensity. You need to have a higher carbohydrate intake to increase carbohydrate stores (glycogen) to have more available energy.

So, your diet might look like this:

  • 65% carbohydrate
  • 20% fat
  • 15% protein

You’d need to take in more fluids as you risk losing more fluids through sweat, therefore to avoid muscle fatigue and increased injury risk, this would be essential. 

Finally, recovery strategies would be even more important for a marathon runner. This is simply because you would be training more, so there would be less time between training sessions, meaning less time to recover. 

Optimising recovery would be essential so that you’re ready for the next training session. This would mean within 30 minutes of finishing a training session, you should have a carbohydrate/protein-rich snack, such as a bagel with tuna, or a banana with a protein shake. This is because the first two hours following training is when your muscles are most receptive to refuelling, hence why the average gym-goer should refuel within this time period too.

However, in the first 30 minutes post-training, your muscles are even more receptive, therefore the marathon runner should look to take advantage of this window and then follow this up within two hours with a balanced meal, containing carbohydrate, protein and fat. 

The key to sports nutrition is personalisation.

How can a sports nutritionist help?

The key to sports nutrition is personalisation. Everyone has different fitness levels, diets, goals and activities and one size definitely doesn’t fit all. A sports nutritionist will work with you to discuss your goals and current status and devise a tailored nutrition plan that can be integral to performance.

Whether your goal is training for a specific event or more general enhancements such as weight management, improving concentration or energy levels, a sports nutrition professional will assess your whole-body health, daily habits, supplements and regular medication needs.

So if you’re looking for sports nutrition support, feel free to message me for a free, no-obligation call to discuss your needs. 

Nutritionist Resource is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.

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