Runners, cyclists, swimmers, wrestlers, boxers, bodybuilders — they are all athletes. Athletes seem to operate at a level higher than us, mere mortals, who complain at the slightest sign of walking the short distance from the car park to the grocery store. Their seemingly limitless amounts of energy and tireless dedication to the sport they’re in is something that we envy and yet, don’t want to be in, at the same time. We, who are content, with our sluggish (compared to these demigods on the field) humdrum lives, would rather spend a lazy Saturday morning in bed than do the rounds in the oval or those laps in the pool.
Yes, athletes operate at an altogether different physical plane. And because of the rigorous demands of their sport, their nutritional needs are also way different from the rest of humanity. In fact, obtaining proper nutrition is key to making them go higher, faster, stronger in their chosen sport.
For starters, athletes need to consume more carbohydrates from such food sources as pasta, potatoes, cereals, milk and dairy. When these carbs are digested, they turn to glucose and are stored in the muscles as glycogen, ready for use during exercise. Thus, a high-carbohydrate diet allows an athlete to exercise for a longer period of time, about 90 minutes or less. For events of longer duration, a high-carbohydrate diet a couple of days before the competition should be sufficient to provide the energy an athlete needs to complete the activity.
Despite the advantages of a high-carbohydrate diet, constantly resorting to this is not recommended. Athletes also need to use up their stored body fats to fuel their routines. The longer athletes work out, the more fats they are going to use up.
Because of the constant muscle and tissue wear and tear, athletes need high amounts of protein in their diet as well. Protein can be obtained from various vegetable and animal sources. While some athletes, particularly bodybuilders, take meal replacement shakes and bars that are high in protein content, they are generally not recommended. Protein obtained from natural food sources are infinitely better and safer than those in processed foods.
Like protein, the vitamin and mineral requirement of most athletes can be met through fruit and vegetable consumption. Potassium, an important mineral in regulating muscle activity, can be obtained by eating bananas, oranges and potatoes. Calcium can be derived from dairy-rich products. Athletes with iron-deficiency are usually prescribed iron supplements.
Two or three hours before any event, athletes usually eat a pre-game meal that provides about a thousand calories. This comes mostly from complex carbohydrates like pastas, cereals, fruits and vegetables which are easily digestible. Water is also an important part of this meal. High-fat foods, however, are not included because they take a long time to pass out of the stomach.
If an athlete wants to take his game up a notch, optimum nutrition is key. When combined with an exceptional training program, he or she can go higher, faster, stronger and conquer any game.