Athletes need their bodies to perform at their peak. Conditioning programs help improve strength, skill, and performance, but nutrition is also a way to enhance athletic power.
Sports medicine, which focuses on helping athletes recover quickly from injuries as well as preventing them, also involves integrating proper nutrition to ensure athletes have what they need for recovery and peak performance.
Achieving your best performance requires not only hard work, but also the proper fuel. A personalized nutrition plan can boost your game and prevent injuries and other health issues.
Below, we explore how nutrition is related to sports medicine and fueling athletic performance.
How Do the Nutritional Needs of Athletes Differ From the Average Person?
Athletes typically require two main things: increased calorie intake and proper hydration.
During training or competition, active athletes may need an additional 500-1,000 calories per day. The ideal ratio of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins remains the same, but the overall portion size (calories) should increase. It’s not uncommon for younger athletes to have needs of over 2,400 calories per day.
An athlete’s calorie needs may vary depending on a few factors:
- Training Volume: The amount of training you engage in plays a role in determining your caloric needs. More intense or frequent training sessions may require higher calorie intake.
- Sport Type: Different sports have varying energy demands. Endurance sports like distance running, swimming, or cycling may require more calories compared to strength-based activities.
- Training Duration: The time spent in training for your sport also influences your nutritional needs. Longer training sessions require more fuel in the form of calories.
An Example of a Nutrition Plan for Athletes
A well-structured and comprehensive nutrition plan ensures that an athlete’s nutritional needs are being met for workouts, competitions, and recovery afterward.
A competitive athlete’s diet usually includes the following:
- Complex carbohydrates – Carbohydrates are the primary source of calories for your body, and athletes should get between 20 to 35 percent of their energy intake from carbs. Complex carbs take longer to break down, making them a more sustained source of energy. Whole grain products containing complex carbs, such as oatmeal, whole grain bread, potatoes, and brown rice, are particularly nutritious.
- Lean protein – It is recommended that protein constitute approximately 10 to 15 percent of your daily calorie intake. Good sources of protein include meat, eggs, milk, beans, and nuts.
- Healthy fats – Fat is a key source of calories and fuel for sports. Unsaturated fats, which are healthier, can be part of an athlete’s meal plan. Avocados, almonds, pumpkin seeds, and olives are good sources of fat. However, you may need to limit the amount of fat you consume before a game. Aim for 20 to 35 percent of their calories from healthy fats.
- Fruits and vegetables – These are rich sources of vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants that the body needs to stay healthy. Colorful fruits and veggies are important for athletes when it comes to building and maintaining healthy tissue. They also help to promote good health by boosting the immune system.
- Hydration – Dehydration can severely impact athletic performance. Prior to exercise, athletes should consume 16-24 fluid ounces of water within the two hours leading up to their training, and drink 4-8 ounces of fluid every 15-20 minutes to maintain hydration levels during exercise. It’s important to consider individual factors such as sweat rate, exercise intensity, duration, and environmental conditions when determining an athlete’s correct fluid intake.
A well-rounded diet is much easier to maintain than a heavily restrictive one. When creating meal plans for athletes, sports medicine specialists also value their preferences.
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