Good nutrition is the foundation of any training or sports routine. Without it, our body cannot function at its 100% and the results will not be the same. Every physiological situation requires different nutritional and dietary requirements, and sport is no different. That is why sports nutrition courses and/or sports science professionals are essential in the lives of athletes. When sport is a recurring part of our lives, we must follow special guidance regarding sports nutrition principles, as the physiological circumstance is also exceptional.
The foods included in a sports diet serve three basic purposes: they provide energy, they provide material for tissue strengthening and repair, and they maintain and regulate metabolism. Food therefore plays a fundamental role in our everyday life in order to achieve objective, goals or sports plans. Some of the objectives that athletes pursue when they train are:
- Achieve better performance.
- Improve their performance.
- Gain muscle mass.
- To recover after exercise.
- To have more energy.
- Lose weight (fat).
Achieving all these goals can be complex, but it will be more feasible if you set your mind to it, if you plan your tasks well it can be very simple. To do this, ask for help from a qualified professional who can guide you on how to balance and adapt your weekly menus to your personal requirements.
Here are 10 basic principles that will be useful to start planning your sports nutrition:
Base your nutritional plan on healthy foods
Stay away from miracle diets, unnecessary supplements, fake fat-burners, performance-enhancing pills, etc. Start building your program from the ground up with good nutrition. You can vary it later, but without that well-defined foundation, you have a long way to go.
Between 50-60% of your body is water. Each single chemical reaction that takes place in our bodies materialize in water; muscles are no excluded. Slight dehydration (between 2-3%) means a drop in performance. What’s more, a dehydrated muscle is more susceptible to injury.
Focus your diet of natural foods
They are much cheaper, more nutritious and will help you meet your daily nutrient needs. At the same time, you will avoid ingesting large amounts of salt, preservatives and artificial colourings, trans fats and a host of other products that we don’t know what impact they will have on our bodies in the long term. You can include nutrients with digestive properties, like apples, papaya, Chia seeds, ginger, whole grains, to name a few.
Prioritise the consumption of vegetables and fruit
There is no healthy or optimal diet for better performance if the dietary basis is not governed by being rich in fruit and vegetables. Both vegetables and fruits provide us with a computation of minerals, vitamins, fibre, antioxidants and phytonutrients that you are unlikely to find in any other food group. They act as a “polypharmacy” with positive and synergistic effects. Every day new compounds are discovered in this food group with positive functional effects on the body.
Plan your meals
One of the best ways to ensure that you eat what is ideally suited to you at each meal. If you leave your choice free will and for the moment when your hunger is ravenous, you will probably opt for what you feel like eating at that moment rather than what is best for you. Plan, buy and prepare what you need in advance for each occasion.
Pay attention to “Nutrient Timing”
And what is it? Knowing how to choose what to consume before, during and after training or exercising. Many metabolic changes are generated in your muscles during physical activity and afterwards. It is in our interest to perform at our best, to optimise training adaptations and to speed up recovery between workouts. That’s why it’s important to provide the muscle with each and every nutrient it needs to express its maximum potential. This is key and of great importance in sports nutrition.
Say goodbye to the fear of fat
For many years, athletes have been afraid of fats. It is now known that a diet too low in fat has a negative impact on performance and health. The truth is that fats are more than just a high-calorie food and your choice of fats will benefit your cardiovascular health. Such as omega-3 essential fatty acids (we cannot manufacture them ourselves) which have very important structural functions and regulate inflammatory processes; they are found in oily fish or in seeds (Chia or flaxseed), in nuts (almonds, walnuts or pistachios).
A diet too low in saturated fats can trigger a drop in testosterone levels. We should not eat too much or too little fat, ideally just enough, but always choose the highest quality fats. Incorporate in your diet foods rich in healthy fats: nuts, olive oil, avocado or seeds.
Shun carbohydrate phobia
Many miracle diet marketers talk about the false health and performance benefits of minimising carbohydrate intake, but there is no evidence, studies or documentation that this is true. It could seriously affect athletic performance and hormone regulation. You should adjust your carbohydrate intake to suit your level of physical activity; choose quality carbohydrates: pulses, fruits, tubers, whole grains, etc.; avoid added refined sugars and refined products in general.
Optimal protein intake
Proteins are essential to be able to recover, regenerate and repair muscle tissue that has been damaged or excessively used during training.
Before including supplements, BE INFORMED!
The market for sports supplements is multi-varied, all promising amazing results. I’m sorry to tell you that only a few have scientific backing to support their benefits. At best, you’ll be throwing your money away. At worst, you will be consuming adulterated products containing undeclared substances, many of which turn out to be banned substances in sports and may even affect your health. So, before you venture into the world of supplements, consult an expert, a qualified professional who can advise you and sort out which supplements are ideal for you on a personalised basis.