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3 Principles of Sports Nutrition

iStock-1254996135Sports nutrition is always an intriguing topic of discussion, one main reason being the body’s extra requirements for nutrients. A lack of exercise, as well as excessive exercise, can reduce the number of available nutrients. Additionally, athletes need to do everything they can to optimize their diet for peak performance: provide the proper energy required for exercise, deliver nutrition for tissue repair, optimize detoxification of free radicals, and regulate metabolism.

While many individuals get mild to moderate exercise, athletes often push themselves to exhaustion. Acute exercise generates a cascade of free radicals that must be swiftly processed and eliminated for optimal athletic performance.

Obtain, Optimize and Process: Three Critical Principles of Sports Nutrition

Obtain - The Energy Required for Exercise

This first principle is simple - food is required to provide the energy needed to exercise. Energy is used for muscle contraction in the form of adenosine triphosphate (ATP). Nutrition should provide the energy required for exercise performance and also aid in a swift recovery time to boost exercise results. Some of the best ways to ensure that adequate amount of nutrients are consumed to properly fuel a workout are:

  • Plan well thought-out meals ahead of time
  • Consume a recovery meal
  • Consider intermittent fasting to boost growth factor

The carbohydrates that are found in foods such as quinoa, sweet potatoes, legumes, fruits and vegetables can boost energy levels for exercise. Nutrient-dense foods are key for post-workout nutrition with some athletes choosing to consume these in the form of easily digestible smoothies. Pineapple is an interesting choice, as it has been shown to aid in muscle recovery due to its bromelain content. Many experts suggest eating or drinking a recovery meal 30-45 minutes post-workout.

Optimize - Metabolic Regulation

The body’s metabolism is complex, involving trillions of microbes and a diverse range of systems to keep everything working in harmony. This delicate balance can be thrown off by excessive exercise. It’s important to incrementally increase training, to acclimatize the body to the additional demands of an exercise routine. The three major metabolic pathways that are taken into consideration are:

  • Optimal detoxification of free radicals
  • Nutrition delivery for tissue repair
  • Enzyme activation and production

Specific whole foods may help upregulate or balance the metabolism. Foods such as berries, cruciferous vegetables, garlic and turmeric have been shown to be beneficial in the modulation of metabolic pathways. These foods contain certain phytonutrients (such as quercetin, curcumin and resveratrol) that can support enzyme activation and production, while enhancing the detoxification and antioxidant pathways.

Process - The Stress Response

An acute bout of exercise can turn on the body’s fight or flight response and mobilize NK cells. While moderate exercise reduces stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline, intense exercise can disrupt the body’s homeostasis. Interestingly, stress proteins play a role in the cellular stress response. Exercise performance should always be incremental to increase stress proteins, thus helping to provide a clear athletic advantage. Several vitamins and minerals can assist in increasing the ability to cope with the stress response, including

  • Zinc - required for the synthesis of enzymes, as well as taking part in carbohydrate, protein and lipid metabolism. Sources include pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, eggs and turkey.
  • Chromium - may help regulate blood sugar and cortisol. Small amounts can be found in foods such as broccoli, green beans, prunes and cinnamon.
  • Vitamin D - primarily from sunlight or supplementation; can be obtained from mushrooms, eggs and oily fish.
  • Magnesium - used up quickly when stressed or exercising. Sources include avocado, beetroot, leafy greens, nuts and seeds. 
  • B Vitamins - great for helping to support a balanced mood and stress response. This group of vitamins can be found in legumes, whole grains and eggs.
  • Vitamin C - helps support the adrenal glands, which are used intensively during exercise. Foods such as citrus fruits, berries, broccoli and red peppers are bursting with vitamin C.
  • Selenium - an antioxidant that can help fight free radicals. Found in garlic, sunflower seeds, and brazil nuts.

What Foods and Drinks Should Athletes Avoid?

While there are several nutritional approaches to sports nutrition, it’s equally important to avoid food and drink that will inhibit performance. Acidic foods can place a burden on the body and irritate the gut lining. If these are consumed, a healthy dose of pre- and probiotics may be advantageous. Foods that should be avoided include:

  • Caffeine
  • Processed foods
  • Sugary drinks
  • Cakes and candy
  • Alcohol

The Bottom Line

We’re all individuals and the rate at which we use up nutrients differs. Ensuring adequate amounts of nutrition via a healthy lifestyle and balanced diet is key. Always take into consideration gender, age, ability, and the intensity of exercise when designing a meal plan that adheres to these three principles of sports nutrition.

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