Athletic sports are becoming increasingly competitive and stressful. If you're an athlete you'll want to be in peak performance year round, but especially when it comes to competing in important events such as the Olympics.
Reaching your peak performance isn't just about being physically fit; nutrition also has a huge role in helping you reach your full potential.
A healthy diet for athletes should be:
#1 High in energy to help with muscle gain - eat three meals, with small healthy snacks between.
#2 High in carbohydrate rich foods - high fiber breakfast cereal, multigrain bread, wholegrain crackers, brown rice, wholemeal pasta, and potatoes. These foods should form the basis of most meals and snacks. Starchy carbs help with exercise performance, recovery from training, and muscle gain. Aim for 6-11 portions daily.
#3 Moderate in protein rich foods - meat, poultry, fish, dairy products, beans, peas, lentils, unsalted nuts. Contrary to popular belief, it's unnecessary to eat masses of extra protein to "bulk up," this is because protein rich foods are not the main source of energy for exercise (carbohydrates are). In most cases, the amount of protein required can be achieved simply by following a balanced healthy diet. Aim for 2-3 portions daily.
#4 Meals should also be low in fat - try to avoid large amounts of margarine, butter, fatty meats, takeaway, cakes, confectionary, fried food and creamy sauces. Consume moderate amounts of healthy fats in the form of olive oil, monounsaturated spreads, oily fish (salmon, mackerel, herring), and unsalted nuts.
#5 Include plenty of fruits and vegetables - at least 3-5 servings of vegetables, and 2-4 servings of fruit each day, including a variety of different colors - necessary for preventing illness, building muscles and repairing injury.
#6 Moderate amounts of low fat dairy - such as milk, yoghurt, and cheese. Aim for 3 servings each day.
It's important to note that during intensive training, some athletes may require more than the minimum number of servings listed. These should come mainly in the form of vegetables, bread, cereal, rice, and pasta, rather than from high fat and/or sugar products.
#7 Low in alcohol - high intake of alcohol can lead to a poor recovery, slowing injury repair, and contributing to excess weight. If you drink alcohol do so in moderation, and definitely not prior to an important event.
#8 Include plenty of fluids - it's important that any fluid lost during exertion be replaced quickly. Dehydration can affect endurance, strength, reaction times and concentration. Suitable options are water or sports drinks (which have the benefit of offering glucose, sucrose and salt.)
- 1 hour before: drink at least 500ml (approximately 1 pint).
- 15 minutes before: drink 200ml (a glass).
- During: drink 150ml every 15-20 minutes, if possible.
- After: For every 1kg of weight lost, you should drink 1.5 litres of fluid. (You can monitor your sweat loss by weighing yourself before and after training and events.)
Remember, thirst is not a good indicator of your fluid needs; signs of dehydration include fatigue, headaches, and lethargy. You can check if you are adequately replacing sweat losses by monitoring the colour and quantity of your urine.