Correct nutrition is an integral part of optimal exercise performance. By supplying your body with the energy, essential nutrients and fluid it requires, you will be better able to cope with the stressors, such as increased energy needs and dehydration, that physical activity can induce. Your nutrition should provide for your dietary preferences as well as for the energy requirements of your particular sport. For example, the energy needs of a high-intensity intermittent sport, such as squash, will be considerably different from the ultra-endurance sports such as an Ironman Triathlon.Your nutrition goals as an athlete may also vary depending on whether you are in training, competition or recovery.
Training, competition or recovery
While there is no one optimal diet to suit every sportsman’s needs, here are a few general guidelines for eating for sport.
• The rationale behind a good training diet is that is should provide your basic nutritional requirements and any particular sport-specific needs. It should achieve and maintain an appropriate body weight and body composition and promote recovery between your training sessions.
• There should be consistency between your training diet and your competition diet. Aim to go into your competition with adequate carbohydrate fuels stores and plan to supplement additional carbohydrates during prolonged activity. One of your most important considerations during exercise is to remain behind.
• Recovery involves the regeneration and repair of tissue damage that may have occurred during exercise. Nutrition is critical in the post-exercise recovery phase, especially if you have less than 24 hours recovery time between strenuous training sessions and/or competitive events. This may occur when there are heats and finals in one day. The aim of a recovery diet is to restore muscle and liver glycogen that has been utilized and to replace fluid and electrolytes lost in sweat. (Electrolytes are minerals that are essential to the body’s ability to conduct electricity).
• Psychological factors and stress may affect your competition nutrition. Post-exercise fatigue and loss of appetite following high-intensity exercise is common, however, for speedy muscle glycogen recovery to occur, carbohydrates like glucose-based sports drinks and tropical fruits should be consumed within the two-hour period post-exercise. Avoid drinking that celebratory alcoholic beverage immediately after the competition as it will only cause dehydration and slow down that rate at which your body will recover.
• If you have travel commitments or time constraints, it is vital to implement suitable strategies. Such plans include fortifying foods with carbohydrates powders or skim milk powder; keeping appropriate foods with you, and having a sound knowledge of correct food choices when you eat at restaurants or order takeaways. Try to eat foods that are not too high in fat and avoid those that you know cause you gastrointestinal discomfort.