Best diets for improving athletic performance
Athletes need food for nourishment and improved performance. Even though no "one food" is perfect for all athletes, some foods give the best result in terms of boosting performance and muscle gain.
Nutrients are not distributed equally in all foods - some foods are more nutritious than others. Likewise, different groups of people require different diet plans.
For athletes, there should be no substitute for a well-balanced diet. With good nutrition, you will perform better in your athletic life. Your health will also have you to thank.
As an athlete, you should take your nutrition as important as your physical training because diet plays a significant role in physical fitness, endurance, recovery, and overall athletic performance.
Our bodies respond differently to food and no one meal works for everyone. However, some foods have a higher potential to help athletes by offering the needed nutrients. It will help to know the best diets that can help improve athletic performance.
So, what should athletes look out for in their food?
What every athlete's meal should contain
An athlete's everyday meal should contain the essential macronutrients as found in a healthy meal.
Some of the nutrients you need in your food as an athlete include: carbohydrates, proteins, fluids, iron, vitamins, and other minerals.
Carbohydrate is an essential source of fuel (energy) in the body. Carbohydrates are primarily stored in the liver and muscles. During digestion, the body breaks down carbohydrates into glucose. The glucose will be utilized immediately or stored as glycogen which will come in handy when energy is needed.
When you start exercising, the glycogen gets converted back to glucose and serves as an energy source.
Carbohydrates can be either complex or simple. Sources of complex carbohydrates are beans, potatoes, whole grains, vegetables, grain products, and cereals. Sources of simple carbohydrates include fruits, milk, honey, and sugar.
Fat contributes significantly to our energy needs. In contrast to untrained athletes, it is always easier for trained athletes to utilize fat as fuel because their bodies are trained for fat adaptation.
As an athlete, keeping up with a good fat intake will enable you to meet the nutritional needs of essential fatty acids and fat-soluble vitamins, vitamins A, D, E, and K.
Opt for soluble fats as they are healthy fats. Insoluble fats and trans fats are not good for the heart as they increase the levels of triglycerides and low-density lipoprotein (bad lipids) which increase the risk of cardiovascular diseases.
Examples of foods that contain healthy soluble fats are eggs, beef liver, fatty fish, fish liver oil, avocadoes, and olive oil.
When digested in the form of amino acids, protein is used as a building block for tissues, enzymes, and hormones that help the body function.
Extra protein in the body is broken down and stored as fat, so it can serve as an energy source when the need arises. Also, proteins are needed for muscle building and tissue regeneration.
The importance of taking enough water cannot be overemphasized. During an exercise, athletes lose enough fluid through sweat, and some dehydrate faster than others.
For this reason, you need enough water to keep you hydrated and help you maintain the right body temperature for optimal performance.
These are the most pronounced nutrients suitable for athletes. A well-balanced diet will provide you with other nutrients like vitamins, minerals, etc.
Best foods for athletes
A healthy diet is needed to improve an athletes performance.
There are foods that athletes should take to enhance their performance. Some of them include:
Beans are available in different varieties. Beans are good for athletes because it doesn't contain saturated fat. The fiber content of beans helps you feel fuller for a long time.
Beans also get broken down into amino acids which are needed for muscle growth and repair. This is why it is also considered an ideal diet for bodybuilders.
For athletes, oatmeal is a good energy source—whole grains like oatmeal help prevent certain diseases like cancer and cardiovascular disease.
Making oatmeal or other whole grains for breakfast will help improve your overall health and sports performance.
You can take your oatmeal independently or add them to other recipes like homemade porridge, cereal bars, etc.
Eggs are highly nutritious food and are among the best foods for athletes. Egg contains high-quality proteins, fatty acids, minerals, and vitamins, which help in energy and protein metabolism. It also protects against oxidative stress, inflammation, cell growth, and tissue repair.
Egg is also one of the superfoods for bodybuilding. When eggs are taken in the correct quantity, it boosts the performance of athletes. The body assimilates eggs quickly, so it doesn't always get stored.
Almond is a perfect snack for athletes. Instead of snacking on refined sugars and processed foods, opt for fruits and nuts like almonds.
Different studies have highlighted the health benefits of almonds one of such benefits is its potential to increase performance endurance.
According to a 2014 study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, consuming 75 g of whole almonds daily improved cycling distance among participants. The study also indicated that almonds may contribute to effective oxygen utilization.
Almonds contain vitamins and minerals like vitamin E and magnesium. They are also rich in antioxidants; hence, can help prevent oxidative stress and inflammation.
Fish is one of the best foods for athletes. One crucial fact about fish that makes it suitable for athletes is that it contains Omega 3 fatty acids. Omega 3 fatty acid is essential for athletes because it improves neuromuscular function and reduces fatigue.
In addition to that, fish oil helps in increasing brain development, prevents cardiovascular diseases, lowers carcinogenic risk, and helps in cognitive disorders.
Chicken has a good protein and amino acid content, making it suitable for increased sports performance in athletes.
Sticking with chicken and fish as sources of animal protein is good for cardiovascular health as they contain less saturated fat (the bad fat).
Saturated fat, as found in pork and beef can raise your low-density lipoprotein cholesterol level, increasing your risk of heart disease. If you must eat them, consume them in their lean, skinless, unprocessed form.
Chicken and other white meats can help in promoting muscle development and aids in the recovery of muscle.
Vegetables are essential for both athletes and non-athletes. Vegetables contain many beneficial nutrients that are good for the body.
The fiber content in vegetables aids healthy digestion, helping the body to eliminate waste products quickly. This implies that taking enough vegetables will help you maintain healthy body weight.
Also, taking a substantial amount of vegetables will help improve your bone health and help prevent you from injury due to the vitamin K and calcium content.
Supplements for athletes
An athlete on a good diet might not need supplements. However, some athletes are vegans, which means they only eat foods that are from plant sources.
While eating plant-based meals is considered healthy, it has its downsides. One of such downsides is that vegans may miss out on important food nutrients from animal protein sources. In such cases, they will need supplements to augment the nutrients missing in their diets.
Some of the supplements highly beneficial to athletes include:
Some athletes have iron deficiency, which affects their sports performance. This iron deficiency is also more prevalent in people of menstruating age.
Iron is essential in the body as it aids in electron transport in redox reactions, reversible storage and transport of O2, and redox catalytic functions. Therefore, iron deficiency causes reduced endurance and increases body energy consumption.
This further highlights the need for athletes, especially vegans, to supplement for iron. However, before going on an iron supplement, ensure that you check your iron level as this will help prevent a case of excess iron in the body.
Vitamin B deficiency is usually associated with increased fatigue. The major source of Vitamin B is animal products. This is why vegans may be at high risk of developing Vitamin B deficiency.
Vitamin B is necessary for athletes, so supplements rich in Vitamin B will help improve sports performance.
However, before taking a Vitamin B supplement, consult with your doctor and run some tests to confirm you need a vitamin B supplement.
Calcium and Vitamin D
Calcium and Vitamin D are necessary for athletes as they help to build and maintain healthy bones and muscles. Being rich in calcium and Vitamin D helps protect you from bone fractures and injuries.
Low Vitamin D status can affect the health and performance of athletes.
In a case where an athlete is deficient in either calcium or vitamin, supplements will help.
Creatine helps in increasing muscle mass and strength; therefore, when there is a lack of creatine in the body, it should be supplemented, especially for athletes who are vegans.
Creatine is produced naturally by the liver, kidney, and pancreas. However, the body's production may not suffice; hence the need to also source from diets. Meat is one of the dietary sources of creatine.
If you are a vegetarian, you may want to take creatine supplements to augment the ones your body produces.
Proteins can be obtained from different food sources. However, not everyone gains sufficient protein from foods. For such persons, supplementing for protein will be beneficial, especially if they are athletes.
As an athlete, if you cannot get protein from your diet, you can supplement using protein powders. Protein powders also function to build muscles and bodies.
Athletes need adequate food and nutrition like other humans. However, athletes should be more intentional when choosing foods or drawing up their meal plans. This is because of their level of physical activity and the task it places on their body.
This article discussed some of the best foods for athletes. If you are an athlete, it may help to incorporate the foods listed into your meal plans.
Also, when necessary, you can augment your meals with some supplements that will help improve athletic performance, strength and endurance. You can consult a nutritionist to help you draw up a meal plan that is specific to your body's needs.