16 September, 2013.
Authored by: Madhusmita Jena.
In this article, I’ve focused on answering the basic question of what nutrition is and providing direction and tips for athletes.
Nutrition is the process of eating and converting food into structural and functional body compounds like skin, muscle, and hair. It is required for growth, maintenance of bodily functions, repair of tissues, performance, and health.
Different parts of the body need specific nutrients to function properly. For example, our nervous system has different nutritional needs than your muscles. These differences must be considered and addressed in order to have our body perform at its optimum.
Getting enough nutrition seems easy. We all eat everyday with varying diets and quantities, in the belief that we are replenishing ourselves adequately. But in fact, many of us intake too much of the ‘wrong’ like fat, sodium and sugar and rarely have balanced food habits. We tend to indulge in fast food and snacks and succumb to all too quickly to much often advertised fad diets such as high protein, low fat diets.
Nutrition guidelines generally revolve around using the ‘4 fundamental food groups’ approach to designing a diet plan:
1) Fruits and Vegetables
2) Meat, Poultry, Fish
4) Breads and Cereals
Adhering to the four food groups is a good start. The trick is in understanding the exact amounts of nutritional requirements, especially since it varies by each individual and also across different stages of life.
You will be surprised with the diverse spectrum of nutritional requirements of a pregnant woman, a lactating mother, a 15 year old teen and an 80 year old. Similarly, athletes have very special needs. While a non-athlete may survive day to day by following general guidelines, an athlete needs a more sophisticated and precise approach to nutrition to achieve the performance excellence that they always aspire for. A ‘60kg female marathon runner’ eating habits would substantially differ from that of a ‘100kg shot putter’. Repeated studies have proven records of athletes being deficient in important minerals and vitamins. It might seem preposterous, but the fact is that most of these athletes just do not eat right.
I have been asked many a times of the difference between RDAs/RDIs and PDIs; and the usefulness of such measures. I believe these serve as good enablers that facilitate in monitoring and adhering to the planned nutrition program.
RDAs or RDIs (Recommended Daily Allowances or Recommended Daily Intakes) and widely accepted measures established by the National Academy of Sciences are quite useful to set a daily reference. It identifies the amount of nutrients found in the food you are purchasing. However, athletes are a special category with very specific nutritional needs. Performance Daily Intakes (PDIs) serves to address these specific needs as PDIs give athletes a set of guidelines based on sports nutrition. PDIs range for each nutrient depending on different need and activity levels.
Over the next couple of months, we would be discussing all about nutrition and how the right plan can help maximize performance. It would be our pleasure to have your feedback and please feel free to shoot in your queries and I will make an humble attempt to address them to the best of my abilities.
Nutrition Tips for athletes
I thought, a few quick nutritional tips would be a good way to kick-start this section…..so here they are:
1) Always eat at least 5 times per day.
By doing so, you will control your blood sugar levels and have a constant flow of energy. If you are finding that during the course of your day, you feel tired and sluggish, it is probably due to a decrease in sugar levels and lack of energy. This may well encourage you to reach for high calorie, high fat foods for a quick fix, which can be avoided by consuming small portions through the day.
2) Plan your caloric ratio.
This means that you need to ensure you have a balance. A good guide is to ensure each meal consists of 1 part fat, 2 parts protein and 3 parts carbohydrates. This may well change, depending on your training programme and goals. However, do not fall into the trap of not eating fat because you want to lose weight! We all need fat as an essential part of our daily diet to maintain good health and help transport the fat soluble nutrients through the body. Similarly, if you are trying to gain mass, do not think that you have to eat predominantly protein. If you eat more than the body needs, it will simply use the excess as carbohydrates or alternatively, store it as fat. A maximum of 25 – 30% of your total calories should come from protein, if your goal is to increase muscle mass.
3) Eat more soluble fiber.
Generous portions of oatmeal, oat bran, dried beans and peas, carrots, broccoli, artichokes, sweet potatoes with the skin on, apples, oranges, grapefruits, and barley may help lower your total & LDL “bad” cholesterol.
4) Eat vegetarian meals at least twice a week.
- Try a vegetable stir-fry with tofu, soy nuts or almonds.
- Top a garden burger with sautéed vegetables.
- Opt for a grilled spicy bean burger instead of a beef burger
- Borrow a vegetarian cookbook from the library.
- Add soy protein to your diet
5) Consume more low-fat dairy products. Many people don’t get enough calcium.
- Drink 1% or skim milk.
- Try low-fat, low sugar yogurt with your meal or as a snack.
- Try low fat cottage cheese.
6) Eat more whole grains. They are excellent sources of fiber, vitamins and minerals.
- Select whole wheat bread. Look for whole-wheat flour, cracked wheat, whole oats or whole rye as the first ingredient on the package label. Make brown rice instead of white rice.
- Select whole-grain crackers, pitas, & tortillas. Eat whole-wheat pasta. Eat bran or other whole grain cereals.
- Aim for 25-30 grams of total fiber per day.
7) Cut down the fried food and oils.
- Avoid fried foods. Bake, broil or grill foods.
- Avoid chips, crackers, cookies, pastries and other processed foods.
- Use olive or Canola oil instead of butter, margarine or shortening.
- Select a low-fat variety of tub margarine.
8) Eat foods high in omega-3 fatty acids.
The omega-3 fatty acids keep the blood less sticky and less likely to clot, lowers blood pressure and keeps the skin of your intestinal tract healthy.
- Eat fish twice a week, or eat walnuts, flaxseed, flaxseed oil, or canola oil daily.
9) Add taste to your food!
Instead of adding salt, flavor your foods with garlic, onions, celery and herbs. Season your food with black pepper, garlic powder or onion powder.
10) Drink more fluids.
Adequate fluids are necessary to regulate body temperature, transport nutrients and oxygen around the body and carry waste products away.
- Start off each meal with a glass of water.
- Take “water breaks” instead of “coffee breaks” or “soda breaks”
11) Think in advance.
If you are going to train in an hour or so, then ensure you take in carbohydrates to help you through your workout. It is stored carbs in the muscle that helps with contracting muscle, if you don’t have enough, half way through your workout, you will be tired and not training to your maximum potential.
However, if you are going to sleep, do not fill yourself up with food as you are not going to use the energy up and burn it – you will simply let the body use the little it needs and then store the rest as fat!
12) 500 calorie deficit a day is required to lose body fat.
Those of you who feel you are training hard and seeing no progress – think about what you are eating. You have to be extremely calculative and adhere to the Energy Balance; ‘energy-in’ to be less than ‘energy-out’. Despite a hard workout, if you have a very high food-intake, you could still be faced with ‘energy-in’ being more than ‘energy-out’, and you will gain weight!
13) Nutrients without calories.
If you are on a negative calorie diet, then the chances are that you need to take a multi-vitamin to ensure you are receiving all the necessary nutrients for daily life. This will also help towards your fitness goals.
14) Don’t get discouraged.
Be patient with yourself. Eating healthy isn’t always easy. Take it one day at a time and don’t get discouraged.
- Try planning meals and snacks ahead of time. This will save you a lot of time in the long run.
- Set aside at least 1 hour every week to plan and shop for your meals. Trust me, you’ll be glad you invested the time and energy.
AND FINALLY – THINK POSITiVELY!!
A positive mental attitude toward eating healthy goes a long way.
We will cover more on nutrition and explore the topic ‘A self assessment to a healthier you’. So, stay tuned, and put your plans in motion. In the mean time, I will be training for my next long race, and enjoying a healthy, balanced diet. Will you? 🙂
Author of this article is Madhusmita Jena, a qualified, practicing nutritionist, currently working at Gold’s Gym in Egypt. To ask her questions related to this article, please use the comments box below.
To seek her consultation on nutrition related advice, please write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Featured image courtesy swimnorac