Sports nutrition – it’s not just for the professional athletes. Whether you workout in the gym, are a weekend warrior or a more serious amateur athlete your sports nutrition needs are no different to that of the Olympian, Premier League football player or professional tri-athlete.
Sports nutrition plays an integral part in improving both sports performance and recovery at the elite level including sports such as:
- Premier League Football
- County Cricket
- Premiership Rugby
- Olympic track and field events
- Distance running
However there are still misconceptions surrounding sports nutrition such as carb loading, avoiding fat and relying on sports and protein drinks.
Sports nutrition helps you:
- Chose the right foods and nutrients to improve performance
- Recover faster from training and games
- Maintain optimal body composition for your sport
- Manage inflammation caused by exercise
- Protect your immune system
- Prevent exercise induced muscle damage
- Dispel the myths of carb loading
- Speed up injury healing
- Make the right choices about sports supplements
- Maintain hydration
Working with a sports nutrition specialist
Sports nutrition is a profession that has come to the forefront of elite sports performance over the past 5 years. Many organisations such as The English Institute of Sport, Premiership football clubs, England Rugby and the Lawn Tennis Association now have sports nutrition specialists on staff and these expert sports nutrition specialists undoubtedly help athletes improve their performance and recovery.
However at amateur levels of sport there remain many misconceptions about sportsnutrition. Some of these include carbohydrate loading for sports, getting carbs from jelly beans, jaffa cakes, pasta and potatoes and that fat makes you fat and should be avoided.
Having worked as a sports nutrition specialists with many top athletes I am still amazed how many of them eat a poor diet and either rely of sports supplements and sports drinks to get them through their events or just have a really poor understanding of how important nutrition is. I have also found that with a little bit of education this can be turned around and athletes feel and perform a lot better.
Why sports Nutrition matters
Remember London 2012…the fastest man on earth…Usain Bolt winning the Olympic gold medal in the 100m. What a moment! But unless you’re him, the difference between winning and coming last could be as little as 0.1 of a second. This is true of many sports – the difference between legendary status and mediocrity could all come down to 1% of the things you do, specificity, attention to detail. And this is why the emerging field of sports nutrition counts.
Gone are the bad old days of a few pints after the game or the concept of carbohydrate loading for every sport. Walk in to any sports club a few years ago and there would have been jelly beans, sugar loaded sports drinks and carbohydrate bars everywhere. Thankfully even this scene is now changing.
The belief is still strong amongst athletes and coaches that carbs such as rice, pasta and potatoes provide energy. Carbohydrates are important for energy production, but as a rule of thumb you should use this simple guide to direct you in your carbohydrate consumption.
- Events / sports lasting less than 90 minutes (most team sports, individual games, track and field events, going to the gym etc…) – no extra carbohydrate is required beyond normal dietary levels and the use of some sports drinks during that event.
- Events / sports lasting longer than 90 minutes (10k, triathlon, half marathon, marathon) – carbohydrate loading would be advantageous.
It’s not just about carbohydrates though as fats and, to some extent, proteins can also be burnt to provide energy. In order for any of these foods (proteins, fats and carbs) to be turned into energy a whole host of micronutrients such as B vitamins, magnesium, vitamin C, zinc, iron, copper, sulphur and CoQ10 are required. These micronutrients also act as antioxidants that help to reduce the damage done by free radicals generated during exercise. Obsolete carb sources such as jelly beans don’t provide much in the way of micronutrients, nor do pasta or potatoes really provide a great deal of nutrition. Instead these macro and micronutrients primarily come from good quality meats, fish, nuts, seeds, fruits and vegetables.
Proteins in the form of meats, fish and eggs are essential to repair damaged muscle fibres post exercise, to run the pathways of detoxification through the liver and to build the neurotransmitters acetylcholine and dopamine that improve attention and motivation. Essential fats from oily fish, nuts, seeds and fish oils help to quiet down inflammation in joints and muscles created during exercise, they improve insulin sensitivity so fuel can get in to muscles faster and they can improve the ability of the heart to deliver oxygen to the body.
Something as simple as hydration can also have a huge impact on performance. As little as two percent dehydration can cause an:
- 8% loss of speed
- 10% loss of strength
- 20% loss of cognitive function
For some people sports nutrition might conjure up thoughts of pills and potions to increase testosterone or add lots of muscle. However, sensible use of sports supplements in conjunction with good nutrition could give you that extra yard, help you push that little harder. A good starting place would be taking a post workout protein and carb shake to restock and repair muscle, a multivitamin and mineral to replace nutrients lost in the sweat or burnt up turning food to fuel and using certain drug-screened nutrients that improve cortisol and testosterone ratios to speed recovery and improve performance.
Clearly good sports nutrition helps improve performance and could be the difference between legendary status and mediocrity, unless of course you are Usain Bolt who loves chicken nuggets and yams!