Nutrition is an important aspect of an athlete’s life. In addition to providing adequate macronutrients (carbohydrates, proteins and fats) and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals), it also ensures greater endurance, strength and lower risk for injuries. To optimize performance, the athletes need to know and learn what and when to eat and drink.
A well balanced nutritional plan is essential for achieving and maintaining optimal athletic performance. In addition to meal planning, the portion of the meal and the timing of the same are of utmost importance. A wide variety of foods and supplements are available for the athlete to meet these needs; however, guidance from a nutritionist would be like placing a cherry on the cake. The nutritionist not only plans the meal for the athlete but also specifies the quantity and timing for the same. Special attention is given to the needs of an athlete before, during and post the training sessions and competitions.
Studies have validated the importance of nutrition in terms of what and when to eat in life’s’ of athletes. However, lack of discipline and inadequate knowledge at the end of an athlete can serve as a major reason for their fall.
Habits athletes should not follow
Skipping breakfast: As the name suggests, ‘Breakfast’ means break-fast; hence, is the most important meal of the day. When we wake in the morning, our body is dehydrated and glycogen stores are empty. The body has used up all the glucose it received from the dinner last night and is now in need of food to gain energy and keep the metabolism strong. Also, there is an elevation of the stress hormone called Cortisol which breaks down the muscle. Studies have shown running late, not feeling hungry and avoiding discomfort during exercise are the most common reasons for athletes to skip breakfast and therefore, leading to overeating later during the day. Furthermore, a study conducted by Veasy et al, showed that eating breakfast reduced mental, physical fatigue and more energy. It also had an effect on the appetite post the workout. Therefore, having breakfast is of utmost importance in order to feel energized throughout the day, perform better and reduce fatigue
Light-loading lunch: Lunch is the meal that loads the athlete with adequate amounts of carbohydrates and proteins along with a good serving of vitamins and minerals. It is a crucial meal especially if the training session or competition falls in the second half of the day. Consuming only fruits, soups, or salads are not ideal options and would not provide all the essential nutrients required by the body to perform. Pelly F and Thurecht (2019), conducted a study evaluating the food choices made by athletes during competition and found that selection of meals was majorly based on nutritional attributes, sensory factors, performance, usual eating practices and physiological factors such as satiety, gut stability etc. Furthermore, athletes who had nutrition knowledge chose adequate quantities of macronutrients and micronutrients; however about 54% of them included discretionary foods. Therefore, imparting nutrition knowledge and to athletes is important along with proper support and nutritional guidance.
Overeating: When an athlete skips any meal or lightens up on eating earlier during the day, he is bound to experience significant hunger later during the day. This could prompt the athlete to feel hungry even after consuming a proper meal therefore, leading to overeating or perhaps binge eating. Overeating, particularly at night can interfere with the athlete’s morning appetite and disturb their healthy routine throughout the day. Consuming calories in excess of daily requirements will result in an increase in body weight, particularly in body fat which negatively affects an athlete’s fitness status.
Eating the wrong food: The best athlete knows that nutrition is the king when it comes to gaining an edge over the others. No matter what your goal is, if you are not eating right, you are not doing your sport right. An athlete’s diet is more than just calorie count. The right food is essential to increase energy, promote muscle growth and aid muscle repair. An athlete sees each meal as an opportunity to refuel and in the process can make choices that are detrimental to their performance. Diet sodas, canned soups and juices, sugary cereals, refined flour products like puffs, patties, burgers, cookies, and chips are high-calorie food options easily available but of nutritional value. Therefore, the athlete should be very careful in choosing their meal and nutritionally balancing it to gain the best results. For instance, a wholesome cereal without any protein source would not serve the purpose of refueling.
Forgetting fluids: A headache, feeling tired and weak and a sense of hunger may be signs of poor drinking habits. Dehydration is very common among athletes and affects the capacity to work. Losses of perspiration greater than 2% of body weight can increase the risk of nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, and gastrointestinal problems. Proper hydration is very essential as it maintains blood volume, regulated body temperature, and is involved in muscle contractions. It is involved in the majority of chemical reactions involved in athletic performance and therefore, it is essential for athletes to hydrate before, during, and after the training or competition to achieve peak performance.