Nutrition and athletic performance

Definition

Nutrition can help enhance athletic performance. An active lifestyle and exercise routine, along with eating well, is the best way to stay healthy.

Eating a good diet can help provide the energy you need to finish a race, or just enjoy a casual sport or activity. You are more likely to be tired and perform poorly during sports when you do not get enough:

Recommendations

The ideal diet for an athlete is not very different from the diet recommended for any healthy person.

However, the amount of each food group you need will depend on:

People tend to overestimate the amount of calories they burn per workout so it is important to avoid taking in more energy than you expend exercising.

To help you perform better, avoid exercising on an empty stomach. Everyone is different, so you will need to learn:

CARBOHYDRATES

Carbohydrates are needed to provide energy during exercise. Carbohydrates are stored mostly in the muscles and liver.

You need to eat carbohydrates before you exercise if you will be exercising for more than 1 hour. You might have a glass of fruit juice, a cup (245 grams) of yogurt, or an English muffin with jelly. Limit the amount of fat you consume in the hour before an athletic event.

You also need carbohydrates during exercise if you will be doing more than an hour of intense aerobic exercise. You can satisfy this need by having:

After exercise, you need to eat carbohydrates to rebuild the stores of energy in your muscles if you are working out heavily.

PROTEIN

Protein is important for muscle growth and to repair body tissues. Protein can also be used by the body for energy, but only after carbohydrate stores have been used up.

But it is also a myth that a high-protein diet will promote muscle growth.

Most Americans already eat almost twice as much protein as they need for muscle development. Too much protein in the diet:

Often, people who focus on eating extra protein may not get enough carbohydrates, which are the most important source of energy during exercise.

Amino acid supplements and eating a lot of protein are not recommended.

WATER AND OTHER FLUIDS

Water is the most important, yet overlooked, nutrient for athletes. Water and fluids are essential to keep the body hydrated and at the right temperature. Your body can lose several liters of sweat in an hour of vigorous exercise.

Clear urine is a good sign that you have fully rehydrated. Some ideas for keeping enough fluids in the body include:

Offer children water often during sports activities. They do not respond to thirst as well as adults.

Teenagers and adults should replace any body weight lost during exercise with an equal amount of fluids. For every pound (450 grams) you lose while exercising, you should drink 16 to 24 ounces (480 to 720 milliliters) or 3 cups (720 milliliters) of fluid within the next 6 hours.

ACHIEVING DESIRED WEIGHTS FOR COMPETITIVE PURPOSES

Changing your body weight to improve performance must be done safely, or it may do more harm than good. Keeping your body weight too low, losing weight too quickly, or preventing weight gain in an unnatural way can have negative health effects. It is important to set realistic body weight goals.

Young athletes who are trying to lose weight should work with a registered dietitian. Experimenting with diets on your own can lead to poor eating habits with inadequate or excessive intake of certain nutrients.

Speak with a health care professional to discuss a diet that is right for your sport, age, gender, and amount of training.


Review Date: 5/14/2017
Reviewed By: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Clinical Associate Professor, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

This information should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. © 1997- 2007 A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.