Sports Nutrition – top tips for athletes

sports 5 best squareThe Rio Olympics are ON! We’re amazed at the commitment and performance of the athletes. You may know that sporting activities are enhanced by well-chosen nutrition strategies. Did you ever wonder what the top evidence based nutrition tips are for athletes that help drive their best performance? Earlier this year Dietitians of Canada published a summary of the latest scientific evidence in sports nutrition.[1] Whether you are a ‘weekend’ athlete or training for challenging events read on for tips that could help your performance be its best.

Top tips for sports nutrition

  • Carboydrates are the key fuel for energy and eating them in balanced amounts is important to perform at your best. Studies show that during exercise that lasts longer than one hour eating carbohydrates increase endurance capacity which means you can cycle, run or play hockey longer and not run out of steam.
    Dietitians Tip: carbohydrate intake is not necessary if you exercise for less than 45 minutes. However, if you exercise with intensity for more than an hour but less than 2.5 hours in one duration, do consume about 30-60 grams of carbohydrates per hour. Many athletes use sports drinks or gels to top up their carbs during performance. It’s important for athletes to identify a personal plan that best meets their individual needs for energy, hydration and stomach comfort.
  • Protein builds muscle and performance. Eating the right amount of protein at the right time has critical implications for athletes. There is strong evidence that among athletes and recreationally active adults, eating protein (examples are egg, milk, casein, whey, lean meat) within the first two hours after exercise will boost the body’s muscle building capacity.
    Dietitian’s Tip: to build muscle eat 0.25-0.3 g protein/kg body weight (equivalent to 15-25 g of protein for most athletes) within the first two hours after exercise and as part of meals every three to five hours. If you are interested in protein supplements, whey is best since it’s a fast absorbing high quality protein. Very high protein intakes (ex. more than 40 grams per meal) after exercise will not boost muscle building furhter.
  • Hydration is important because during exercise your body loses extra water through sweat and could become de-hydrated. In sweat your body also loses minerals such as sodium and some potassium, calcium, and magnesium.  Depending on the sport or exercise you do, you could lose anywhere from 0.3 to 2.4 L (about 1¼ to 10 cups) of sweat per hour! Dehydration places strain on your body and you could get over-heated tired and hurt your performance.  Be sure to top up on fluids when you’re feeling thirsty and look for signs of dehydration such as dizziness, headache and muscle cramps.  The ‘pee test’ is a good way to check your hydration before exercise.  Aim for urine that is a pale yellow colour.
    Dietitian’s Tip: To stay well hydrated plan strategies for your fluid management before, during, and after exercise.  For example, drink water throughout the day and before exercise, drink 1-2 cups of fluid. Studies show that during exercise beverages with added flavour or sports drinks (which have added flavour, carbohydrate and electrolytes like sodium and potassium), generally result greater consumption and therefore better maintenance of hydration during intense exercise than plain water.[2]
  • Registered Dietitians are the most trusted nutrition experts to help you with your personalized nutrition plan that’s needed for top performance.  If you would like help with your eating pattern, a Registered Dietitian can assess your diet and give you recommendations  ‘for the appropriate type, amount, and timing of intake of food, fluids, and supplements to promote your optimal health and performance across different scenarios of training and competitive sport.’  You can access the position paper on Nutrition and Athletic Performance at: www.dietitians.ca/sports

[1] Dietitians of Canada (2016) Nutrition for Athletic Performance,  www.dietitians.ca/sports

[2] Dietitians of Canada (2014) Sports Hydration  http://www.dietitians.ca/Your-Health/Nutrition-A-Z/Sports-Nutrition-(Adult)/Sports-Hydration.aspx

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