Sports Nutrition

For athletes of all sports and genders, proper nutrition is of the upmost importance. There are numerous aspects involved in the optimal consumption of food for an athlete to achieve peak performance at his or her sport.
Carbohydrates: An Athlete’s Best Friend
For a non-athlete, unrefined complex carbohydrates such as vegetables, legumes, whole grains and fruits, should generally make up 40% of caloric consumption. According to the International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA), however, those actively competing in sports should adhere to a diet in excess of 55% carbohydrates. With that said, the concept of carbohydrate consumption pertaining to athletic performance is a bit more sophisticated than a mere percentage.
To truly optimize sports performance, carbohydrate consumption high in glucose (sugar), should be limited to five minutes before, or during a sporting event. Even then, it should come from unrefined sources such as raw honey or grade B maple syrup, which deliver nutrients along with a blood sugar level boost. High glucose consumption however, should be limited. The ultimate goal for optimal carbohydrate consumption is to consume an unrefined complex carbohydrate (low glycemic) two to three hours before participating in a sporting event, or partaking in exercise of any kind. This includes foods such as legumes, vegetables, and properly prepared whole grains.
In recent years, sports drinks like Gatorade, that are filled with large amounts of refined sugar, are not optimal for peak athletic performance. There are alternatives with lower amounts of sugar that still provide the same, if not more, electrolytes. Below is an all-natural homemade recipe to make your own electrolyte sports drink that will achieve the same purpose of any sports drink you can buy at the grocery store, except with significantly less sugar, additives and artificial flavors.
All-Natural Homemade Electrolyte Sports Drink
Mix the following ingredients in a large container and enjoy in portioned servings.
1 Liter Water
2 Cups coconut water
1 Teaspoon unrefined sea salt
2 tablespoons grade B maple syrup
½ Cup fresh lemon/lime Juice
Protein: The Building Block of Peak Performance
Protein consumption is synonymous with athletes and their performance. However, it is not unusual for athletes to over emphasize and consume too much protein. The truth is, very rarely does an athlete need to consume drastic amounts of protein. When consumed in excess around athletic performance, protein can certainly be used as an energy source. However, when protein is used as a fuel source for the body it leaves behind a nitrogen residue that is not conducive to peak athletic performance. Protein should be consumed not in excess of complex carbohydrate intake.
The key to achieving peak performance with protein consumption is actively providing the body with complete proteins. To ensure complete protein consumption, the source must have all nine essential amino acids. While it is not uncommon for many athletes to supplement amino acid intake with protein powder or amino acid pills, whole foods are much better sources of amino acid intake. Complete protein sources like lean meat, seafood, and even certain plant sources, such as quinoa, offer excellent essential amino acid profiles.
Quinoa is a complete plant based protein. While it is not strictly considered a grain, it is closely related. Quinoa is an invaluable protein source for vegetarian and vegan athletes alike. Additionally, supplemental ingredients, such as brewer’s yeast, nut powders, and spirulina are beneficial meal additions to ensure proper amount amino intake.
How do you know if you have consumed too much protein? Put your hand in front of your mouth and breathe out. If your breath is bad, chances are you have consumed too much protein!
Quality fats such as coconut oil, olive oil, butter, walnut oil and ghee are clean burning sources of fuel and should also be consumed in moderate amounts. Adding these to your salads, or used in cooking will satiate the body and give it what it needs to repair cell membranes damaged by intense athletic performance. Fat is one of the cleanest sources of fuel for the body and should not be avoided. When I have an athletic client the first thing I usually do is increase quality fats, vegetables, and make sure the protein they eat is not obtained at a fast food drive through.
Peak athletic performance is certainly the most highly sought after personal goal for any athlete. Once you get in a groove with your proper sports nutrition, the process suddenly becomes less overwhelming, and significantly more effective. Unrefined complex carbohydrates such as vegetables and legumes and fruits should be the first thing an athlete reaches for. Organic quality protein and a little bit of fat completes the athletes plate and will support them in going that extra mile.
Whether you are a vegetarian or meat-eater, female, or male, endurance athlete, or more anaerobically inclined; peak sports performance is largely dependent on proper nutrition. Without it, the body will likely fall short of its true capabilities. So avoid the fake foods, refined foods, and fast foods and reach for something real instead. Your body will thank you!
Gastelu, Dan, Hatfield, Frederick C. Specialist in Performance Nutrition. Carpenteria: International Sports Sciences Association. 2006.
Houston, Denise K, Nicklas, Barbara J, Et al. Dietary protein intake is associated with lean mass change in older, community- dwelling adults: the Health, Aging, and Body Composition (Health ABC) Study. Am J Clin Nutr January 2008 87: 1 150-155