Features of the diet when practicing sports

Many people tend to associate the word diet with things you eat to lose weight. But a diet is a word we can use to describe what kinds of food we eat. Therefore, what an athlete eats would be considered their diet. But since every athlete is human, our diets aren’t always great.

You can benefit from a sports diet plan if you’re an athlete in any shape or form. For professional athletes, reaching out to your coaches or team nutritionists is a good idea. They can help devise the best sports diet for you and your discipline. 

For the non-professional athlete, the situation is a little different. You’re probably juggling multiple responsibilities, from work to home life. You still want to succeed in competitions or reach personal bests in marathons or gym sessions. And, likely, you’re not working with a nutritionist. 

To help you succeed at any level, we’ll explore what to pay attention to when improving your sports nutrition diet to support your performance. 

Why athletes need a diet

Why is nutrition so important for athletes? 

Sports and nutrition are inter-connected. You need proper nutrition to supply yourself with energy. This, in turn, supports performance. In addition, nutrition promotes recovery from exercise. Ultimately, many athletes use nutritional strategies to improve their overall performance. 

Proper nutrition is vital for good health along with performance. As athletes tend to be active, they need sufficient energy to support all bodily functions. Not getting enough energy can lead to a syndrome called RED-S—Relative Energy Deficiency in Sport. This affects almost all bodily functions, with athletes experiencing RED-S typically experiencing tiredness, changes in mood, and even changes in reproductive function. Long-term RED-S can lead to general health issues as well. 

If you want to learn more about RED-S, check out our blog post.

Sports health and nutrition are also connected because we are unable to produce key nutrients necessary for health. We must obtain things like vitamins and minerals from our diet. Therefore, an athlete’s nutritional strategies must contain enough macro and micronutrients.  

Overall, athletes need the proper diet to ensure they can perform well, recover quickly, and keep their bodies in good health. So, how can one do that? 

Vitamins and Minerals

Sports performance and our daily actions rely on many chemical reactions in our cells. These are impossible without vitamins and minerals. For example, muscle contractions require sodium and calcium. We require vitamins from the B group to release energy from food. 

Athletes need to ensure that their sports nutrition plans provide them with adequate vitamins and minerals. This supports overall health and the many processes in our cells and bodies. Micronutrients can also support mental performance, help with hormone production, and cognition. 

Therefore, every athlete should get plenty of fruit and vegetables during the day alongside whole grains and lean meats, as they are excellent sources of vitamins and minerals. In addition, there are certain minerals and vitamins all athletes should monitor their intake of, as many tend to be lacking in them. These are

  • Vitamin D. We mainly make this vitamin from exposure to the sun, so if you play an indoor sport, you may want to supplement. The same applies to those who live in northern latitudes. 
  • Folate. You can get this nutrient from leafy greens, beans, whole grains, peanuts, and eggs. 
  • Magnesium. You can get this nutrient from almonds, pumpkin seeds, beans, brown rice, salmon, and poultry. 

Vegan and vegetarian athletes should take extra care with their micronutrient intake. Many vegan athletes may not get enough vitamin B12, iron, zinc, calcium and vitamin D. 

You may want to consider supplements if you cannot meet your requirements. Multivitamins can be a great way to support micronutrient intake, especially if you’re busy, travelling or unable to get all the nutrients from foods. Maxler Vitamen and Vitawomen are two complexes designed for the athlete, with an incredible spectrum of nutrients in quantities you need.

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    Protein

    Athletes require more protein than people who lead sedentary lifestyles. Protein is key for athletic performance, and you may need anywhere between 1.4 and 2.0 grams of protein per kilo of bodyweight. The exact number will depend on your sport and your performance level. Elite athletes will typically require more protein than amateur-level athletes. For example, elite athletes trying to lose fat mass can benefit from increasing their intake up to 3 grams of protein per kilo daily. 

    Protein should be spaced out evenly throughout the day. To support continuous protein synthesis, take care to get at least 20 grams of protein with every meal. It is a good idea to plan your meals around protein sources. 

    Other times during the day when you can squeeze in a protein-rich snack to support your muscle growth and recovery are after a workout and before going to bed. 

    After a workout, you can combine a protein and a carbohydrate source in a snack. This will benefit you by supporting recovery and helping your body synthesize glycogen. 

    Before going to bed, you can get some slow-digesting protein like casein. This can help support overnight muscle protein synthesis. 

    For any athlete, the quality of your protein sources is critical. When choosing protein sources, follow these tips: 

    1. Pick quality protein sources. This means proteins with all the essential amino acids. For vegans, combine multiple protein sources to get all the aminos you need. 
    2. Choose lean. Those who rely on meats or dairy products should choose leaner options. This can help you manage your saturated fat intake without compromising on protein. 
    3. Don’t neglect fish. If you’re relying on animal products for protein, fish is a great option that also has plenty of omega-3 fatty acids. These are great for your health, so incorporate fish into your routine. 
    4. Don’t be afraid of supplements. Getting enough protein from whole foods can be hard. It may seem like you’ll need to constantly munch on a protein source during the day. Supplements can go a long way toward supporting your protein intake. 

    Protein powders are among the best sports nutrition supplements. They can easily provide a portion of protein without needing to eat a full-blown meal. In addition, they can help you make low-protein foods, like oats, a high-protein option. Protein powders can benefit vegan and omnivore athletes alike. 

    Carbohydrates

    Carbohydrates are stored in our body as muscle glycogen. We use glycogen as a source of energy during exercise. Therefore, it is essential for athletes to consume enough carbohydrates to keep their energy levels high. 

    Athletes can benefit from a high carbohydrate intake of 5-12 grams per kilo a day, depending on exercise intensity. For recovery, it’s best to use quick-absorbing carbs. For the rest of your meals, use carbohydrate sources that don’t spike the blood sugar that much. 

    In addition, we can use our carbohydrate-feeding strategies to support performance during training. For those who do resistance training, starting training with plenty of glycogen available supports adaptation and progress. For those who do endurance exercise, low glycogen levels before training can promote adaptation, helping the body rely on fats more. 

    However, it’s best to start any competition well-fed for optimal energy for competition purposes. 

    Fats

    Fats are an often-overlooked nutrient that our body requires. We need them to take in fat-soluble vitamins and nutrients. We also rely on fats as a fuel source, especially when exercising for a long time. In addition, they can help us feel full. Your fat intake should generally be between 30% and 20% of your daily calories. This is especially the case if you tend to do endurance sports. 

    You should get about a third of your fats from polyunsaturated fatty acids. These are found in oils like olive oil or fatty fish. Up to 10% of your daily fat intake can come from saturated fats. The rest should be from monounsaturated fats, which you can get from nuts, vegetable oils and avocados. 

    Hydration

    Hydration is essential in any sport. Athletes must ensure that they have sufficient water during the day, especially after working out or competing. Those who sweat a lot can benefit from adding electrolytes to their water.

    Supplements for athletes

    Nutritional supplements for athletes can come in a few different shapes and sizes. The most obvious ones are the ones that help you meet your dietary goals in some way. These include things like: 

    • Protein powders – they can help you get the right amount of protein in a convenient format. For example, Maxler 100% Golden Whey is a great way to support your muscle mass, as one serving provides around 24 grams of vegetarian protein. 
    • Vitamin and mineral supplements – these can help you get sufficient amounts of the vitamins or minerals you may not be getting enough. These can be sold as complexes, such as multivitamins. Alternatively, you can find supplements for a specific nutrient. These are helpful when there’s something you need to take in, or you’ve been recommended by a medical professional to get more of a nutrient. 
    • Fatty acid supplements – omega-3s are an essential part of our general health. Getting sufficient omegas can be difficult for athletes and non-athletes alike, which is why you can benefit from a supplement. 

    Alongside these are some nutritional supplements that can help you recover or get sufficient calories. These are called gainers. Mass gainers are typically blends of carbohydrates and protein that you drink as a shake. These can be great for those who need large quantities of energy or those trying to put on muscle. Learn more about gainers here. 

    We hope that you found these basics of sports nutrition useful. If you want to learn more about optimizing your nutrition for your discipline, check out our Knowledge Center. 

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