10 Basic Principles of Nutrition for Athletes
Rapid recovery from performance activities is essential for higher level athletes. There are a number of things that must occur in a short time span to promote the bodies healing, energy and nutrient repletion, and growth so that performance levels can remain high and likelihood of injury reduced. In our experience, younger athletes have not adequately taken into consideration nutrition concerns and sleep which ultimately limit their progress and potential. The athletes who choose to follow the basic principles below will not only be in a better position to compete, but also remain healthy and put themselves in the best position to achieve their long-term athletic goals.
1. Have a Plan
Good nutrition doesn’t just happen. Take the time to plan your daily and weekly nutrition consumption including how much, when, and what you will be eating. Much like the very nature of athletic competition itself, without a plan, failure is certain. We recommend at least 4 legitimate balanced meals each day. Bring prepared meals whenever possible as “eating on the fly” is no real plan at all. Limit your dependency on restaurants and be aware that many such as large chain sub shops position their offerings as healthy, when they are quite far from this. Finally, be sure to prepare and plan for “pre” and “post” activity. Proper timing of nutritional intake at these times will be one of the most significant advantages you can have on your competition over the course of your season.
2. Target your daily calorie (Energy) needs.
A 2000 calorie diet may be adequate for most average Americans, but likely insufficient for most highly competitive athletes. We suggest a simple formula for highly active athletes.
Body Weight X 16 kcal = Total Daily Caloric Consumption / Example: 175 lbs X 16kcal = 2800 kcal daily
3. Macronutrient Ratio: (Based on individual caloric estimates)
Athletes are highly individualized based on body type, body composition, and the demands of their sport. While there is no “one size fits all” approach that we have found successful in nutritional programming, the following number should give you an estimate of where to begin your macronutrient consumption for competitive sport. Be sure to make regular adjustments as necessary to assure optimal recovery and health.
Protein: 40% of caloric intake.
Fat: 20% of caloric intake.
Carbohydrates: 40% of caloric intake.
4. Strive for total nutrient sufficiency.
Food is fuel, but also much more. Focusing your meals only on calories can be a mistake when nutritional program. Micronutrients, Vitamins and amino acids necessary for maintaining the body’s metabolic processes and building (re-building) tissues. In essence, to maintain optimal health and recovery, you will need more than just energy. Highly active individual should estimate aim for consume 10 servings of vegetables and 2 servings of fruit each day to assure adequate dietary intake of essential nutrients.
5. Stay hydrated
Hydration is critical both during performance and during periods of recovery. Most people including athletes do not consume enough fluids on a daily basis. While basic estimates suggest consuming 1 gallon (8 x 8oz. glasses) of water each day, this can be much greater for athletes. Hockey, lacrosse, football and other endurance-related sports will require a consistent rehydration strategy including electrolytes, and other nutrients during competition. Sip constantly and avoid becoming thirsty. Thirst is an indicator of a state of dehydration.
6. Consume adequate levels of protein in your daily diet.
Dietary protein provides the amino acids (building blocks) for hormones, tissues, and other non-essential nutrients in our body. Athletes that fail to consume an adequate amount of protein in their daily meals challenge the body’s ability to grow and recover. We’ve discovered many of the athletes who train at our
facilities significantly under-consume protein and thus restrict their ability to optimize the results they receive as a result. Additionally, these athletes may be putting themselves in a greater position to incur injury in both training and in competitive circumstances. While supplementation is an important part of dietary programming for athletes, your emphasis should be on building adequate amounts of protein from whole food sources into your diet each day.
7. Avoid processed foods.
Packaged, canned, and other prepared foods are a concept of convenience rather than nutritional value. Chemicals added to preserve, color, and enhance the flavor of these foods can be detrimental to an athlete’s ability to maintain a sharp focus and perform at their best. Quite often, these same products are also devoid of many nutrients and heavy on useless calories derived from sugar and refined starches.
8. Refrain from Pre-workout and other stimulant based products.
While the sports nutrition companies will tout these items as “Safe” there are costs associated with using these products in and around sports competition. The compounds in these products are intended elicit an effect from the adrenals and ultimately yield a short-term (if any benefit). The long-term effects of placing this unnecessary stress on the adrenals can cause damage to the bodies neurological, cardiovascular and other systems as well as challenge the athlete’s ability to attain quality sleep. It has been our experience athletes will continue to increase the dosing of these products far beyond the recommended levels in order for the products to continue to have an effect after their has been some adaptation to using the product.
9. Consume 25 -35 grams of a high quality certified protein supplement after training activities, practice, and competition.
The research is clear, consuming a highly digestible form of protein after performance activities expedites an athlete’s ability to recover. Due to the concern of low quality products in the mass market which could include banned substances, we recommend using a product with NSF Certified for Sport, Banned Substance Control Group, or WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency certified products.
10. Consider additional supplementation.
Although your regular diet should be rich enough to supply all of your nutrient and energy demands, this can be very challenging for athletes. Until better practices and habits have been conditioned, we suggest you support any inadequacies of your diet with the following supplements:
Multi-vitamin/Multi-mineral – Many younger athletes simply do not eat well. This happens as a result of bad habits and poor education. As you adopt better consistency and strategies for eating to support sports performance, a multi-vitamin can help support your diet by providing the nutrients processed and other poor food choices may be devoid of. It’s preferable a brand wherein the nutrients are derived from whole and organic foods.
Omega-3 (“Fish Oil”) – Helps reduce inflammation in the body due to stress and damage as well as offset the pro-inflammatory nature of many foods in the Standard American diet. Use a trusted brand such as Nordic Naturals or Carlson.
Greens product – Rich in vitamins, minerals, and anti-oxidant. Greens are a great substitute for those who do not get adequate servings of vegetables in their diet to aid in the bodies detoxification and nutrient support. We suggest purchasing one derived from organic food sources.
Branch-Chained Amino Acids – Used to enhance the body’s healthy and natural process of creating energy, increase the rate of protein synthesis, and reduce muscle wasting, this supplement is a suggested “core” supplement for elite athletes