There is a large amount of scientific evidence showing the relationship between our diet and our physical or athletic performance. A poor diet will almost certainly have a negative effect on performance, even in case an ordinary jog through your neighborhood park. A good diet that provides the right calories, vitamins, minerals, and protein will help provide the energy you need to finish a run or simply to enjoy a sport or recreational activity.
Recommendations for Sports and Diet
The recommended diet for an athlete differs very little from the diet suggested for any healthy person. So, whether you enjoy your occasional run or a visit to your local gym or you’re preparing a marathon, the basic food groups pyramid model is an excellent guide; however, the amount of food needed in each group will depend on the type of sport, training, and time in relation to activity and exercise. So when determining the correct pattern for sports and diet, caloric requirements vary according to the size, age, sex and physical activity of each individual.
Complex carbohydrates are a basic foundation in the diet, found in foods such as pasta, bagels, whole wheat bread, and rice. These foods provide energy, fiber, vitamins, minerals and are low in fat. Carbohydrate bulking (a concerted diet / exercise regimen) increases the body's carbohydrate energy stores (called glycogen). These have been shown to improve performance in endurance activities lasting more than an hour.
The classic method of supplying the body with carbohydrates has been abandoned for a safer and equally effective method of increasing glycogen in the muscles. The best way to increase glycogen reserves is to get 50-60 percent of your daily calories from carbohydrates.
Simple carbohydrates (basically sugars) like those found in sodas, jams, jellies, and candy provide very few nutrients, but many calories. These sugars can actually reduce performance when consumed immediately before a sports competition because they can cause hypoglycemia (low blood sugar).
The most important functions of proteins in the body are to help the growth and repair of tissues. Many people believe that athletes need a diet rich in protein to help build muscle, despite the fact that scientists have repeatedly shown that this is not true and that it is only a myth.
Only vigorous physical activity and exercise stimulate changes in the muscles. Athletes, including bodybuilders, need to increase calorie intake only in small amounts, and these increases are easily achieved simply by consuming more total calories (eating more).
For example, Americans already consume nearly twice the calories they actually need, so protein needs for muscle building are being met before any type of physical activity starts. Excess protein is used for energy and can be stored as body fat.
Amino acid supplements and high protein intake are not recommended, because they can promote calcium loss and overload the kidneys, which must filter the excess nitrogen provided by protein.
Water and Liquids
Water is the most important nutrient and yet - generally - still the most underrated when considering sports and diet. Water and fluids are essential to maintain good hydration and body temperature. The loss of water due to sweat to keep the body cool can exceed several liters over a period of one hour.
Adolescents and adults should regain any weight loss during exercise by drinking amounts of fluids equal to the weight they lost. A good indication to know if the person is fully hydrated is to check if the urine appears clear and the best hydration method is cold water.
Some suggestions to maintain adequate hydration are:
- Drink a good amount of water, juice and milk.
- Avoid beverages that contain caffeine, as caffeine is a diuretic and increases fluid loss.
- Drink a good amount of fluids before, during and after physical activity.
- Provide water to children frequently during sports activities, as children do not react to thirst as readily as adults do.
And, to finish off, some tips for those taking their sports a step further...
Achieving the desired weight for competitive purposes
Changing body weight to improve athletic performance should be done wisely and effectively, otherwise, it may cause more problems than benefits. Losing body weight in an unrealistic way, achieving weight loss quickly and avoiding weight gain in an unnatural way can have negative effects on your health, so it is necessary to set real goals regarding body weight wanted.
It is recommended to consult a doctor to establish an appropriate diet according to the type of sport, age, sex and the amount of exercise. And of course, in case of all types of physical activities, it is of the utmost importance to have good insurance coverage.
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