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Sports Nutrition Series - Nutritional Considerations in Sports

For athletes and active individuals, there is no substitute or supplement for a well-balanced diet. An athlete’s diet is not very different from any person striving to be healthy. They need to include healthy choices from each of the food groups namely carbohydrates, proteins and fats. However, athletes may need to eat more or less of certain foods, depending on:

  • The type of sport

  • The amount of training they do

  • The amount of time they spend in training

Sports activities can either be a competitive one or a non competitive one. Football, basketball, cricket, hockey, racing, swimming, running etc are some common competitive sports. It requires a great amount of physical effort and athletes can often be under tremendous stress having to push their limits. gymming, dancing, hiking, etc. are common non- competitive sports. They are usually engaged in a more relaxed environment and done for fun or to pursue one's passion.

Good nutrition is key for overall health and for any kind of athletic performance. It is essential for achieving best results from one's training and workouts. It is also important for preventing early fatigue, potential injury and for early recovery. Sports Nutrition is an important part of many sports training regimens, being popular in strength sports (such as weightlifting and bodybuilding) and endurance sports (e.g. cycling, running, swimming, rowing, etc). It focuses its studies on the type, as well as the quantity of fluids and food taken by an athlete. In addition, it deals with the consumption of nutrients that include carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins, minerals and supplements.

Nutrition considerations on what is to be consumed before, during and after the workouts and the amounts and the timings of the supplements is dictated by what the athlete is to achieve. For example:

Endurance considerations: (e.g. marathon, swimming, cycling)

  • For Frequency- post workout recovery will be the focus

  • For Intensity- pre-workout fueling and hydration are the key

  • For Duration- mid workout fuelling and hydration are the key

Strength Sports Considerations:(e.g., football, powerlifting, bodybuilding)

  • Trying to build lean muscle and get stronger

  • Maintain the athlete's muscle and lose fat

Athletes who train for competitive sports need to take care of some golden rules much prior to their competition and on the game day. As they get closer to the game/competition, meals should be smaller. Dairy, fat and fibrous carbohydrate sources during the last few hours pre-event/practice, are avoided as these may cause digestion issues. The key thing with “pre-event” nutrition is making sure that one has tested it out before the game day. The pre-meal/snack protocol should be tried in advance to make sure it is tolerated well by the athlete.

It is important for athletes to plan their meals ahead of time and choose their macro and micronutrients wisely, whether in a competitive sport or non-competitive one. While vitamin and mineral needs do not drastically increase with activity levels, some are particularly important for athletes. Supplements are often included in sports nutrition diets but these are advisable to be taken under the supervision of a qualified sports nutrition expert and a medical practitioner.

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