Nutrient Recommendations for Athletes
Right amount of carbohydrates coupled with adequate proteins, vitamins and minerals, and optimal hydration is sufficient for athletes to perform well and stay healthy.
A healthy diet for athletes ensures that the body gets adequate calories, carbohydrates, proteins, vitamins and essential minerals.
Your requirement for each of these food groups will depend on what type of sport you engage in, the amount of training you undergo, and the time (duration) you spend in these exercises.
The right amount of carbohydrates is necessary to perform well and stay healthy; too much can increase your body fat and too little may result in poor performance and injuries. According to the NIH (National Institutes of Health), a little more than half of your calories must come from carbohydrates.
Incidentally, teen athletes may require 2000 to 5000 calories per day to meet the energy requirements for their performance and training as well as their growth.
Studies have shown that metabolic and hormonal function is impaired significantly if the daily intake of energy is less than 30 kcal per kg fat-free mass, and this affects performance and health. In women (and girls), reproductive function and menstrual regularity may be disturbed as a consequence of low-energy availability.
Proteins are important for building and repairing muscles, but athletes don’t have to take excessive proteins for enhancing performance. Studies have shown that 10g to 25g of high-quality protein is sufficient to produce a maximal effect. A varied diet generally supplies all the protein you may need. According to the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), "The timing of intake may be important and taking a small amount of protein-containing foods soon after training may help to promote adaptations taking place in the muscles. Well-chosen vegetarian diets can easily meet protein needs".
In his study on gender-specific nutritional recommendations, Mark Tarnopolsky from Dept. of Neurology, McMaster University Medical Centre, Canada, suggested the following nutritional recommendations for athletes:
- ‘Women show improvements in endurance exercise performance following the ingestion of glucose solutions containing 0.6 – 1.2 g of carbohydrate per kg per hour. There does not appear to be any influence of menstrual cycle on these effects in women.
- Top sport or elite male and female athletes require more dietary protein and compared to sedentary individuals, however, this increase is usually met through an energy sufficient mixed diet. The suggested safe dietary protein intake for top sport male athletes is about 1.7 g per kg daily and for females is about 1.2–1.4 g per kg daily.
- Women are at greater risk for energy and protein insufficiency as compared to men due to the greater incidence of energy restriction. Strategies such as the consumption of carbohydrate and protein immediately after exercise (see above) can minimize the negative effects of energy insufficiency but may not be sufficient to allow for optimal carbohydrate loading.’
Fat intake, although important for staying healthy, is not considered a criterion for athletic performance. However, a study from the School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, USA, revealed that ‘trained athletes, who were fed iso-caloric high-fat diets (42 to 55 percent) that maintained adequate carbohydrate levels, have shown an increase in endurance in both men and women when compared to diets composed of low fat intake (10 to 15 percent)’.
Dietary supplement, a common form of ergogenic aid is used by athletes to enhance energy use, production, or recovery. Some of the most popular and legal supplements used as ergogenic aid are listed below:
|Beta-hydroxy-beta-methylbutyrate (HMB)||Prevents breakdown and enhances synthesis of protein, increases strength, improves body composition||Long term effects unknown|
|Branched-chain aminoacids (BCAA)||Enhances endurance performance, slows down muscle breakdown||Appears safe|
|Carnitine||Increases fat metabolism||None|
|Creatine monohydrate||Increases muscle energy, short term endurance, strength, and lean muscle mass||Mild|
|Energy gels||Quickly supply carbohydrates during endurance exercise||None, if taken with water|
|Multivitamins||Increase energy, endurance and aerobic capacity, enhance recovery||None at RDA, some toxicities at high doses|
|Phosphates||Increase ATP production, energy and muscle endurance||Mild at high doses|
|Protein||Optimizes muscular growth and repair||None unless underlying medical condition|
|Sports drinks||Increase endurance performance, supply fluid, carbohydrate, and electrolytes||None|
|Zinc||Increases physical endurance, mental alertness, concentration, free testosterone||None if taken in recommended dosages|
DHEA, ephedrine, human growth hormone and many such supplements are banned by various organizations including FDA and Olympics. Creatine, another popular supplement, increases muscle strength and power during high-intensity exercise (lasting only a minute or less) but it has numerous side effects in the form of weight gain, diarrhea, muscle cramps and dehydration.
- American College of Sports Medicine position stand. Nutrition and athletic performance - (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19225360)
- A perspective on fat intake in athletes - (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10872896)