Finding the Right Food to Fuel Your Body
Posted on 8/23/2017 by Colleen Boucher, P.T., DPT
Wearing proper clothing, getting the right amount of sleep and practicing proper stretching techniques are vital to an athlete’s success. But, just as is important is eating the right foods. A proper diet will allow athletes to remain active, maximize function and minimize risk for injury. Eating the right foods will also address factors that may limit performance such as fatigue, which can cause deterioration in skill or concentration during an event.
Using guidelines from the American College of Sports Medicine, we believe practicing these tips will help athletes remain active in their favorite sport. What and when you eat prior to physical activity makes a big difference in the way you perform and recover.
Eat three to four hours before your workout and make sure you’re eating food that not only contains adequate amounts of proteins and carbohydrates, but also provides sustainable energy, speeds recovery time and boosts performance. Early fatigue caused by malnutrition can result in improper mechanics, creating predisposition to injury.
Athletes should eat a diet that gets the bulk of its calories from carbohydrates, an athlete’s main fuel. Eating foods such as breads, cereals, pasta, fruit and vegetables will help to achieve maximum carbohydrate storage.
Re-fueling after exercise is just as important. Eating protein, carbohydrates and a small amount of fat after activity prevents the breakdown of muscles and can lead to better next-day performance. While protein doesn’t provide energy, it is needed to maintain muscles. Focus on incorporating foods with high-quality protein, such as fish, poultry, nuts, beans, eggs and milk.
Practicing proper hydration is equally important in reaching your optimal level of success. Athletes, especially those participating in high-intensity sports, should drink fluids early and often. An easy way to ensure you’re properly hydrated is focusing on the color of your urine. A pale yellow means you’re getting enough fluids, while a bright yellow or dark color means you need to drink more. We encourage athletes to:
Drink 17 to 20 ounces of water two to three hours prior practice.
Drink 7 to 10 ounces every 10 to 20 minutes during activity.
Drink 7 to 10 ounces of water after practice for every two pounds of body weight lost.
Drinking the right liquids is also a key factor in an athlete’s diet. Milk is preferred by many athletes as it provides a good balance of protein and carbohydrates. Sports drinks are great for replenishing electrolytes, which are lost when you sweat. If you’re losing a lot of fluid as you sweat, it’s a good idea to dilute sports drinks with equal amounts of water to ensure you’re getting the right balance of fluid and electrolytes. If possible, drink chilled fluids, which are more easily absorbed than room-temperature liquids and can help to cool your body.
Finally, avoid extreme diets as they increase the risk of micro-nutrient deficiencies. Vitamin and mineral supplements aren’t necessary if your diet includes a variety of nutrient-dense foods. Often, these supplements require supervision and monitoring for safety and effectiveness.
By: Colleen Boucher, P.T., DPT, center manager from NovaCare Rehabilitation’s Sicklerville, NJ center. Colleen has been a part of the NovaCare team since 2001 and enjoys treating all types of patients. She has a strong interest in vestibular rehabilitation and concussion management.