Stretching, warming up and the gear you wear are not the only important areas when it comes to exercise. Sport and nutrition is also essential in any sport person’s life. The energy you need to perform in any physical activity does not just come from nowhere. You should try to maintain a healthy diet as this will give you the nutrition and energy required to perform in any physical activity. In this section we will offer some advice on what a balanced diet actually is and also what an athlete’s diet should be composed of.
An athlete’s diet
An athlete’s diet will usually involve a much higher calorie intake than other people’s because the body is constantly working hard and therefore burning calories. Calories that are burnt off during exercise should be replaced in order to keep the body fuelled, maintain performance levels and concentration and prevent weight loss. Some athletes consume up to 6,000 calories each day; recommended daily calorie intake is usually 2,500 calories for adult males and 2,000 for adult females.
Pre match/event meal (at least 4 hours before)
This meal should be rich in complex carbohydrates; it should also contain protein, vegetables or fruits and a small portion of a food containing fat. Examples of meals commonly eaten by athletes include pasta, meat, salads and stir-fry. The high complex carbohydrate content will boost energy levels and keep the athlete fuelled for a long period of time after the meal. If a match is at lunchtime, it is important to eat a big breakfast which will usually consist of cereals, toast, eggs and lean meat; fruits are also a common choice for breakfast.
Pre event snack (30 minutes before)
Having a snack just before a game can boost energy levels and provide a quick burst of energy; the snack should be small to prevent indigestion during a match. Examples of snacks include granola bars, bananas and dried fruit.
During the activity
During the activity it is important to keep hydrated; this will help to prevent injuries and keep the body working effectively. Some athletes who are competing for long periods of time will eat at stages during the activity; tennis players, for example, are often pictured eating bananas between games. Energy drinks can also provide an energy boost.
After the activity (immediately after)
Hydration levels should be boosted immediately after the end of an exercise sessions; this will prevent muscle pains and headaches and aid recovery.
Post-match meal (2-3 hours after)
It is important to replace the calories burnt off during the match by replenishing glycogen stores; this usually involves eating another meal rich in complex, starchy carbohydrates. It is also important to remember to continue taking on plenty of fluids.
A balanced diet
It is extremely important to eat a healthy and well-balanced diet; this is particularly important for elite sportspeople, as diet can play a huge part in determining the level of an athlete’s performance. Intensive exercise burns off a large number of calories and the body must be constantly refuelled to enable it to continue working effectively and efficiently. Eating a range of foods from different food groups will ensure an athlete gets all the essential nutrients, minerals and vitamins they need to maintain a good level of general health as well contributing to producing an effective performance. Ideally, meals should contain a mixture of carbohydrates, fats, proteins and fruits and vegetables, with fruit and vegetables and carbohydrates constituting the bulk of the meal.
Most athletes eat a carbohydrate-rich diet as this helps to keep them fuelled; complex carbohydrates release energy slowly which enables the body to keep working for long periods of time. Examples of foods with a high content of complex carbohydrates include pasta, rice, bread and cereals.
Proteins are essential for muscle growth and repair and are therefore an important part of an athlete’s diet. Examples of protein-rich foods include meat, fish and eggs.
Fats are an essential element of a balanced diet and are needed to transport and absorb vitamins and minerals. The intake of fats should be moderated, especially saturated fats, which can build up in the arteries and contribute to serious health issues including heart disease. Foods that are high in ‘good’ fats include avocados, nuts and oily fish.
Fruits and vegetables
Fruits and vegetables contain a huge range of vitamins, minerals and nutrients, which are essential for the successful completion of several daily activities as well as increasing the efficacy of the immune system which increases resistance to illness and infection. It is important to try and eat a range of fruits and vegetables as this will ensure all the necessary vitamins and minerals are consumed.