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How athletes can fuel their bodies for top performance: part 1

Information provided on the blog is for educational purposes only and is not intended to diagnose or offer treatment plans.

What we’re trying to accomplish:

It’s a common question: what should I eat? This question–though important for everybody–is especially important for athletes, but if you’re not an athlete trying to figure out the right amount of protein to eat before your next game, that’s okay! This guide will give you a great sense of how to think about eating in order to feel better and be healthier. Just keep in mind what your dietary needs are and make sure to consult with your doctor or a registered dietician before making any drastic changes.

With that said, let’s jump into the good stuff.

Each individual athlete is different, regarding energy expenditure, metabolism, state of health, etc. Nutrition plays a critical role in athletic performance, and athletes, coaches, and parents need to realize that making wise food choices can drastically improve athletic performance.

If you eat garbage, your athletic performance is going to reflect that decision. Training yourself to be better at your sport is supposed to be tough work. Changing your diet is one of the easiest things you can do to help improve your performance and give you that competitive edge over your opponents.

Carbohydrates: The Master Fuel

Studies done at the university setting showed that if athletes did not consume a diet high in carbohydrates on a daily basis, they would experience chronic fatigue and poor performance. Recommended Intake: Depending on training routine, athletes should consume at least 50 percent, but ideally 60-70 percent of their total calories from carbohydrates. Depending upon the length of training sessions, an athlete’s carbohydrate intake should be between 2.5-6.0 grams per pound of body weight, with longer training time reflecting the higher number of grams needed. For example a 100 pound baseball player should have a total of 400 grams of carbohydrates per day (100 x 4.0 = 400).

Carbohydrate intake before, during, and after exercise

The pre-exercise or pre-training meal serves two purposes: 

  • It keeps the athlete from feeling hungry before and during exercise.
  • It maintains optimal levels of energy for the exercising muscles

The “pre-game meal” should be high in carbohydrates, non-greasy, and readily digestible. Fatty foods should be limited as they delay the emptying time of the stomach and take longer to digest. Here are guidelines for the “pre-game” meal:

  • The meal should be eaten 3-4 hours before an event
  • It should provide 150-300 grams of carbohydrates
  • To avoid stomach upset, the carbohydrate content of meals should be reduced the closer the meals are to the event
  • Adding small amounts of protein can aid in regulating energy levels by slowing down carbohydrate absorption, delivering the carbohydrates to the working muscles at a more consistent rate over time
  • Pay attention to salty cravings. If competing in hot/humid climates, make sure to replace electrolyte losses with salty snack foods, such as pretzels or sport drinks with added sodium

Stay tuned for more info about specific meal and energizing ideas in future posts.

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Mark Robinson, ATC, CSCS

Mark Robinson is a certified athletic trainer and certified strength conditioning specialist, focusing in sports medicine, for OrthoIllinois. He also trains individuals and athletes with and without a variety of medical issues at Precision Sports Training and competes as a contract athlete for Running for a cause.


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