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.
Being an athlete, you know that injuries are inevitable. Sooner or later we all get one. So, what happens to the body when you are injured and how should you amp up your recovery?
How Does your body react when it is injured?
When an area of the body is injured an inflammatory response is set off. Although, inflammation is a crucial part of the body's natural healing process, it creates a significant challenge for your immune system. Your immune system is heavily dependent on lots of nutrients, vitamins, and minerals to provide effective protection.
When you are injured, the body triggers the immune system to begin the healing process. Cells travel to the site of the injury, some cells destroying infection and others isolating the affected area. Healthy cells nearby to the injury also become more active, using extra oxygen and energy to repair the damaged tissue. Healthy nutrition during these healing process is imperative.
Don’t Cut back on your Calories
Post injury rehab/recovery can require up to 20 percent more calories. Rehabbing an injury requires energy to heal your muscles, bones, ligaments, and tendons. I know most of us athletes immediately worry about weight gain from the decrease in activity levels; however, you will still be performing daily exercises to rehab your injury.
Eating nutrient dense food should be the first in nutritional care. If you decrease your calories this will accelerate muscle loss especially during your duration of immobility. Additionally, reducing your protein levels will lead to loss of muscle mass maintenance.
Eat More Protein
When you’re injured you lose muscle mass in the immobilized area and because of the overall decreased training. Immobilization decreases your muscle’s ability to absorb amino acids which aid with muscle's growth and repair. It is recommended to eat a high protein diet by consuming 20-35 grams of quality protein every 3 to 4 hours throughout the day. During the repair phase, you may need double the amount of protein you previously ate spread throughout your several daily meals.
Select the Right Carbs
The increase in protein doesn’t mean you should avoid eating carbs. Choose carbs that help promote healing. Carbs such as whole grains, fruits, and vegetables contain important antioxidants and nutrients for your body. They also contain dietary fiber. All of these are important for your recovery. Again, be careful choosing which carbs to eat. Eating heavily processed carbs increases inflammation in the body.
It is reasonable to replace some of the carbs you would normally consume to fit in your protein increase. Balance is important during these times of recovery.
Add some Collagen
Unlike your muscles, tendons and ligaments get nourished with little blood flow to provide nutrients. Consuming a collagen supplement 30 to 60 minutes before exercise promotes collagen-building amino acids to tend to the damaged tissue. This can help promote healing.
Calcium and Vitamin D
Calcium is important for bone strength; however, it also helps the brain signal nerves and contract muscles properly.
Vitamin-D enhances the body’s ability to absorb and process calcium for recovery. Vitamin-D is one of the best methods for natural pain management. ]
If you have become injured, it is time to start thinking about your nutrition plan. How can you use food to promote healing? Knowing how to fuel your body while rehabbing an injury is a major step to getting you back to your running routine.
The long standing joke for half marathoners and full marathoners is to carb-load the night before with a big plate of pasta.
The truth is, much more planning goes into proper pre-race nutrition than just simply overloading the night before. More importantly, if you planned on doing it all in one meal, you may end up hindering your performance with fatigue, gut issues, and inflammation.
For those of you who are just starting your running journey you may be wondering, what is carb-loading? Carbohydrates in the form of glycogen are your body’s preferred fuel and for races lasting longer than 1.5-2 hours, filling up these fuel stores are key to helping you go the distance.
Athletes need carbs to maximize the stores of glycogen in their muscles and liver. Your body only has so much room for this fuel source, so carb stores are needed to help you maintain your energy. Ever hear someone say they, “hit the wall” or “bonked”? These terms are other favorites and refer to your body running out of fuel. When you run out of your energy source your pace may start to slow, your muscle will cramp, and fatigue will set in. Through carb-loading, athletes have excess carbs stored in the liver making it easier for their bodies to release during races and long runs. Carbs also help with hydration. For every gram of stored glycogen there are four grams of water stored along with it. Hydration is extremely important factor when racing.
What does carbo loading look like?
It is always a good idea to gradually introduce any new stimulus into a training or nutrition plan. Carb-loading should be no different. Runners should prepare to increase their carb intake little by little prior to their event. This will ensure you have excess glycogen in your liver for your muscles to feed from during endurance exercises.
What are some best practices for carb loading?
Typically you should start carb-loading three to four days out from a race. In general you will need to slowly add more of a mixture of carbohydrates such as rice, legumes, potatoes into your meals. As you gradually increase your intake of carbs per meal, you will want to eat less fat and fiber.
Carb heavy meals, without practice and nutrition training on the gut, can cause extreme stomach upset. Be sure not to go overboard on the carbs.
The day before the race, stick to only simple carbs that are easily digestible.
Common Mistake When Carb Loading
Consuming all the carbs in one sitting
Doing this does not give your body enough time to fill its stores properly. It can leave you lethargic for the rest of the day and the following morning!
Eating more than you usually do
You've worked so hard in your training, do not deviate too much from what you have done in your build up. Yes it is important to top off your glycogen stores but it does not mean “stuff yourself” to get fuller glycogen stores. You are simply adjusting each meal to have a larger carbohydrate component.
Don't look at the scale
Gaining weight while carb-loading is natural. That’s because carbs help you retain water. Remember that for every gram of stored glycogen, you’re storing 4 grams of water. If you gain some weight, that’s actually a good thing. It means your body has the fuel and hydration ready to race.
Eating too much fiber
As you increase your carbs, runners should reduce their fiber intake in the last three days prior to a race. This is because fiber can be taxing on the GI system.
Experimenting with carb loading for the first time
You never want to “try” something new on race day. It is best to always plan ahead of a couple of long runs in your build up with some carb loading meals so that you know what to expect and how your body will respond.
Practicing will help you dial in your carb-loading plan just like you dial in your race nutrition plan. Then, once you know what works best for you, pre-plan your meals the last three days so you cannot stress about what to eat.
Not eating enough carbs
Runners typically eat healthy and know how to fuel themselves during their training. Race week can be a slight exception for those following low carb eating habits.
Not drinking enough when carb loading
Not all carbs are created equal.
There are different types of sugars: fructose, sucrose, glucose. Different carbohydrates have different ways to reach the bloodstream. Therefore, runners need to consider of what they’re drinking with what carbs they’re eating.
“Sports drinks contains fructose, glucose, and sucrose which are different sources of carbohydrates. They contain some sodium which helps with the transportation of glucose, meaning sodium is an important part of carbohydrate utilization." Running, and more specifically faster or higher intensity aerobic running, predominantly uses glycogen which is the body’s stored carbohydrate source. Eating a high proportion of carbs in the days leading up to an important race can ensure that glycogen stores are topped up, thus providing a runner with the maximum available fuel for the upcoming hard effort.
Do all races require carbo loading? No.
The body has enough glycogen stored to last for about 75-90 minutes. For most runners, this equates to doing a 5K, 10K, 15k, and maybe a half marathon without having drained glycogen stores. If this is the case, and assuming you already eat carbs as part of a healthy diet, you shouldn’t worry about carbo-loading before the race. As it was mentioned earlier, eating too many carbs may hinder your performance as you may feel bloated or lethargic the next day due to the additional water retained as part of the glycogen building process and ingesting too many carbs.
Those who are running 75 minutes or more however—running a half-marathon, marathon, and ultra marathon it would be well advised to consider adding extra carbs to their pre-race diet. Again it is recommended to do this in the two-to-three days prior to the race given that you have already practiced this method in a couple long runs.
A good guideline is to aim for seven to eight grams of carbs per kilogram body weight three days before the race; eight to 10 grams per kilogram two days before and 10 to 12 the day before. This will ensure that your glycogen stores are topped up and provide you with the most available stored fuel for the race.
If you find yourself in a situation where you have not practiced carb-loading, do not worry! This will not make or break your race. It won't undo any of the training you've put in. Your race day nutrition can will play a huge role in managing your energy stores during the race.
In its purest form, the Paleo Diet allows you to eat ONLY those foods that humans ate when they first roamed the earth millions of years ago.
What to eat:
Nuts and seeds
Lean meats, grass-fed animals or wild game
Fish, especially those rich in omega-3 fatty acids,
Oils from fruits and nuts, such as olive oil or walnut oil
What to avoid:
Grains, such as wheat, oats and barley
Legumes, such as beans, lentils, peanuts and peas
Dairy products, including milk, cheese, yogurt, and butter
Refined sugar as well as honey and artificial sweeteners
Processed and cured meats, such as bacon, deli meats, and hot dogs
Highly processed foods in general
Sample Meal for a Day: