Charlotte Lok, Bsc (Hons) Food Science and Nutrition
There seems to be a misconception that sports nutrition is only for elite athletes. Granted, elite athletes train hard and their nutritional demands are very high, but sports nutrition is based on a solid general nutrition foundation which can be applied to anyone: young, old, athletic or sedentary. It is important to remember that you can turn almost any ordinary task into your daily workout.
In general, nutrition calls for:
Consuming a certain number of calories in order to sustain vital body functions. This amount is determined by a person’s unique physical makeup and his/her nutritional and fitness goals.
Ensuring calories are composed of the right amount of macronutrients: protein, carbohydrates, and fats.
Ensuring proper hydration. This is crucial for the body to work properly, as our body is made up of 70% water. Women should drink at least nine cups of water per day, while men should drink at least thirteen cups. This do not include additional hydration needs due to strenuous activities where one loses body fluid through sweat. Adding electrolytes to your diet (such as sodium, potassium, magnesium and calcium) helps replace vital nutrients that are lost through perspiration.
Athletes typically consume a greater number of calories than non-athletes to satisfy their physically active lifestyle. This calls for additional hydration as well as energy replacement, primarily in the form of carbohydrates and fats to replace the body’s glycogen, and for protein to feed, grow and maintain muscle mass*.
Timing Your Meals
The timing of meals is crucial for athletes of any level. It is not just what they eat that’s important, but it is also when they eat. Their training regimen may require them to eat certain types of macronutrients several more times a day than someone who is not in training.
Meal timings for athletes are typically split into pre-workout, during workout and post-workout. Follow these simple advices in order to get the most out of your physical activities.
Carbohydrates are your primary fuel for a workout session. Think of them as gas for your car. You should consume carbs within 30-45 minutes of intense physical activity. They should be in easily-digestible form to convert into glucose quickly for use as fuel. Additionally, many athletes prefer a pre-workout supplement with ingredients such as caffeine and nitric oxide precursors to help prep their body for the workout.
During a Workout
During a light to moderate workout, you should drink water (at the very least) and add electrolytes if you need the extra boost. Hydration is crucial to maintain the body’s performance throughout your workout, especially if your workout requires focus and decision-making. In a moderate to vigorous workout, you should consider adding carbohydrates to your electrolytes, so your body gets continuous supply of glucose to maintain performance.
It is important to feed your muscles after a workout. Typically, you want to consume good quality calories within 30-45 minutes after a workout to reap the maximum benefits. Even if you don’t get enough calories during that window, you should always remember to include a post-workout meal to consume between 20 to 40 grams of high-quality protein. This amount of protein can come from whole foods such as chicken or fish, but many don’t like eating right after a hard workout, so a protein shake is a good solution. A post-workout shake can come from dairy (whey or casein) protein or from plant-based sources like soy. Protein rebuilds muscles and ultimately helps to increase lean muscle mass.
Want to Lose Weight? Eat Towards Your Goal!
Some people who are trying to lose weight think they’ll drop the weight quicker if they skip a meal after their workout, but nothing could be further from the truth than this. You must rebuild your muscles with good quality protein after stressing them with exercise, or all the hard work you put into your workout could have been for nothing. Rather than increase your lean muscle mass, depriving your body of much needed protein for your muscles could result in the loss of lean muscle instead.
No matter how eager you are to work towards your goal, make sure you build in at least one rest day in a week. While you may be consuming adequate nutrients every day, your body will not have time to really recover and build lean muscle mass unless you give it a rest.
Remember, sports nutrition isn’t just for the elite-level athletes anymore. Your workouts aren’t necessarily confined to the gym, the track or the practice field either. If you elevate your heart rate during any activity, whether it’s taking a brisk walk or just doing some yard work, then congratulations – you are an athlete. Follow the tips above to find, and unleash, your inner athlete.