The best way to prepare the body for practice and competition is to build and maintain muscle glycogen levels, by eating foods high in complex carbohydrates. The high carbohydrate diet is the best choice for supplying energy and prolonged endurance.
Importance of Carbohydrate in Sports Diet
- Carbohydrates are the primary fuel for exercise. The athlete's extra caloric needs are best met through increasing the amount of complex carbohydrates in the diet. At least 55% of the athlete's calories should come from carbohydrate sources. After digestion, carbohydrates are stored in the liver and muscles as glycogen. The amount stored equals about 1,800 calories for a 150 pound male; the trained, conditioned, and well nourished athlete will store more.
- Under conditions of short term, high intensity exercise, carbohydrate is used almost exclusively as the fuel source. During prolonged exercise the greatest utilization of carbohydrates occur during the first 4 to 5 minutes. As exercise continues, the fuel source shifts to a progressively greater amount of fat.
- Carbohydrate is stored in limited quantities; this limits our ability to perform endurance exercise. Endurance events, such as running or cross country skiing lasting 60 minutes or more, can deplete the stored glycogen.
Role of Fluid in Sports Diet
For many athletes, dehydration is something to watch out for. Even moderate fluid losses can mean operating at less than 80% of your potential, and more significant losses could be dangerous to your health.
Role of Iron in Sports Diet
Many athletes run the risk of low iron, partly because the stresses of their sport lead to increased losses of iron from the body (runners seem particularly susceptible). A number of studies have found that people in regular training and/or sports activity have low levels of ferritin, a body store of iron. People with low iron stores complain of tiredness and poor recovery from training.
Most athletes who are eating a well-balanced diet containing adequate calories to maintain weight will consume sufficient vitamins and minerals to meet their needs without the need for supplements.
Some athletes take nutritional supplements as an 'insurance' - especially those who are dieting or eliminating food groups from their diet. However it could be suggested that they may benefit more from concentrating on eating a healthy, well-balanced diet to meet their nutritional needs.