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Nutrition for Sports Performance

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New Orleans Saints Director of Nutrition Jamie Meeks breaks down 8 essentials of sports nutrition.

1. Calories = Energy

It is essential to consume adequate calories to maintain optimal energy and fitness for your particular sport. As physical activity and muscle mass increases, calorie needs increase as well. Fuel your body on a consistent basis to ensure optimal energy balance.

2. Variety

Incorporate a variety of carbohydrates, lean protein, and heart healthy fats into your sports diet. Eating a mix of these key nutrients at every meal/snack is key for fueling and refueling your working muscles and a critical component of eating to maximize performance. Examples include:

  • Carbohydrates: 100% whole grain bread products, brown rice, whole grain pasta, potatoes, fresh fruit, whole grain cereals, oatmeal, beans
  • Protein: Chicken, Fish (Tuna, Salmon), Shellfish, Sirloin, Extra lean ground beef, Turkey, Milk, Yogurt, Eggs, Tofu
  • Fats: Avocado, Peanut Butter, Nuts, Seeds, Olives, Olive Oil

3. Hydration

Establish a hydration plan that is specific to your schedule and individual needs. Start the hydration process first thing in the morning and continue to hydrate throughout the day to maximize your hydration status for practices/workouts/games. Monitor the color and volume of your urine to evaluate your hydration status each day.

4. Sweat Loss

Become familiar with your sweat losses by weighing before and after workouts, and continue to hydrate during physical activity. If exercising longer than an hour and/or in hot and humid conditions, choose an electrolyte enhanced beverage to replace electrolyte and fluid losses. For every pound of sweat lost, drink ~20 ounces of fluid to return to a hydrated state.

5. Pre-workout

Put extra time and effort in planning your pre-workout fueling strategies to promote more energy, better recovery, optimal hydration, and lower risk of injury. Eat a small snack or meal 1-2 hours before physical activity or a larger meal 3-4 hours beforehand to ensure your muscles are fueled up and ready to work as hard as you need and want them to. If exercising over an hour, consume a quick carbohydrate every 30 minutes during the workout. Avoid high fat and high fiber foods before exercise. Always start exercise fully hydrated!

6. Recovery

Fully recover and prepare your body for the next day’s work by incorporating a recovery nutrition plan. Recovery nutrition plays an important role in replenishing energy stores, repairing and building muscle tissue, returning to a hydrated state, and lastly, making maximal physical gains. Consume high carbohydrate foods (30+ grams) within 30 minutes post workout to restock your body's energy storage tanks. Repeat every 2 hours for the next 4-6 hours. Make sure your recovery snack/meal contains at least 15-30 grams of protein to begin the recovery and muscle building process.

7. Supplements

Before buying or using a supplement, athletes should put all of their focus on their nutrition and training. There are certain cases where supplements may be warranted; however, supplements should be used to “supplement” a well-planned sports diet, not substitute for it. Evaluate all dietary/sports supplements for legality, safety, purity, and effectiveness. Contact a Sports Dietitian if you are considering adding supplement to your regimen.

8. Rehab and Nutrition

Injuries are often an unavoidable part of participation in sports. In addition to proper and consistent rehabilitation, nutrition can play a role in how fast an athlete recovers. Getting adequate calories, carbohydrates, protein, fluids, vitamins and minerals are all important at this time.

Be sure to eat a diet consisting of a variety of foods each day to ensure your body receives the nutrients needed to support the healing process. Some key nutrients to focus on include: Calcium, Vitamin D, Vitamin C, Zinc, Vitamin A, Vitamin K, Magnesium, lean protein sources, and omega-3 fatty acids.


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