Essential Nutrients for Maximizing Athletic Performance
Any athlete will tell you how challenging it can be to eat a balanced and healthy diet while achieving the correct ratio of macro-nutrients. We live in a culture of fast foods and processed meals, which rarely provide the nutritional content the human body requires to perform at its peak.
If you are an athlete, you will also have different requirements than the average person. This, coupled with the downright confusing information out there about sports nutrition, makes landing on the ideal diet challenging.
With that in mind, there are some key nutrients that athletes should look to incorporate into their diets. These can help to maximize performance and recovery. Read on for more information.
More or less, everyone is aware of the importance of protein in a healthy and balanced diet. Protein is nutritionally essential for the repair and recovery of our muscles and cells. As an athlete, you are constantly damaging the muscle fibers in your body to build them back stronger.
As a result, when performing high-intensity activity regularly, you will likely need to increase your protein intake to facilitate effective recovery.
It is possible to get all of the protein you need from a healthy and balanced diet in an ideal scenario. If you aim for a 1/3 ratio of protein in your meals, you can often reach your daily intake goals. You can also promote performance and recovery by consuming a protein-based snack before and after training.
However, we all live busy lives, and sometimes situations aren’t ideal, especially if you are an athlete with an especially high protein requirement (i.e., bodybuilders). In this case, you might need to supplement your diet with protein. An excellent option for this is Ingredient Optimized’s reduced-calorie protein. This is the world’s first reduced-calorie protein supplement, which can be hugely beneficial for those looking to maximize protein intake while remaining in a calorie deficit.
Carbohydrate-rich foods have long been targeted as a poor food choice. This bad reputation stems from the association between a high carbohydrate diet and weight gain. However, this is simply a widely propagated myth. While carbohydrates can contribute to weight gain due to their relatively high caloric content, eating the right kinds of carbohydrates is essential for performance.
It can help to think of carbohydrates like fuel. These are a source of energy. Carbohydrates are made up of sugars, and depending on the length and complexity of the chains of these units, energy can be released at different rates. Therefore, any athlete who limits their carbohydrate intake risks not having enough energy to perform properly.
Many nutritionists refer to carbohydrates as either fast or slow-release. Both have their uses for athletes, but the times at which you need to consume them differ.
You should aim to eat slow-release carbohydrates throughout the day, and fast-release foods should be consumed about an hour before training and throughout your session, if it is longer than an hour. Like with proteins, around a third of your meals should be made up of carbohydrates.
Some great sources of healthy carbohydrates include brown pasta, wholegrain bread, wraps, potatoes, quinoa, and many more.
Fats are another key aspect of a healthy diet that have been demonized in the past. Fats can be broadly broken down into two categories: healthy fats and unhealthy fats.
Healthy fats are an essential component of a nutritionally balanced diet. They deliver fat-soluble vitamins to the body and also provide essential fatty acids. These are really important for physically achieving peak performances and play a role in our brain function and mental health.
As mentioned above, some fats are generally best to avoid if possible. This includes those found in processed foods like pizzas, cakes, and biscuits. These have little positive impact on athletic performance and often take the place of healthier fats in your diet.
Instead, you should look to incorporate the fats from foods like oily fish, nuts, seeds, and avocados in your diet. While these are important, you must remember that these foods are energy-dense and lead to weight gain if they aren’t eaten in moderation.
Vitamins and Minerals
If we follow the analogy of other foods being like fuel for a car, vitamins and minerals are akin to oil. These promote the smooth running of the body and are vital for achieving the highest performance levels.
Vitamins and minerals cannot be synthesized in the body, so you have to get them from external sources. Generally, this can be achieved by eating a balanced diet.
Deficiencies of vitamins and minerals can lead to issues such as feeling tired or run down. Therefore, their importance for athletes cannot be overstated. Some of the key nutrients athletes should pay attention to are iron, calcium, B vitamins, and Vitamin D.
If you have any concerns about your current nutrient levels, scheduling a blood test with your doctor can be beneficial.
One of the best ways to ensure your intake of vitamins and minerals is adequate is to eat various fruit and vegetables. You should try to make the final third of all of your main meals throughout the day fruit or vegetables.
This is an essential part of any healthy diet, but many people overlook their hydration levels. In many ways, water is one of the most important nutrients for any athlete.
Thankfully, it is relatively easy to tell if you are consuming enough water. One of the easiest ways to see is to check the color of your urine. Any color from yellow to dark yellow is a sign that you should increase your water consumption.
Other signs of dehydration are being thirsty (obviously!), feeling tired, and having headaches. Typically, if you aim for your urine to be the color of pale straw, you’ll know you’re on the right track.
Overall, you should look to keep a healthy balance of these key nutrients if you want to reach your goals and achieve peak performance. If you are having issues with progressing your athletic abilities, it is often a good idea to take a closer look at your diet. If you notice any deficiencies, acting to rectify these can enhance your athletic output.