Sports Diet: 101
Maintaining a body that is in training for sport or for military duty requires a sports diet that will keep you running at optimal levels. There is a science to the relationship between what you put into your body through food and dietary supplements and how well your body responds when it needs to compete. If you fill yourself up with processed and “faux” food, then you’re likely to feel sluggish, run out of energy too quickly, and actually harm the vital organs and systems that you need to stay healthy. Give your body what it needs, when it needs it, and in the quantities in requires based on your level of training, and you can expect it to respond right on queue.
Some people may argue that food is food, and calories are calories. After all, there is a lot of misleading information out there that simply says that the key to losing or gaining weight is to simply take in fewer calories than you exert, or take in more than you need.
However, all calories are not created equal. And this is easily proven when you compare a sports diet with the Standard American Diet (SAD). Sorry guys, a 2000 calorie meal of greasy burgers, French fries and a shake is not going to give you the same kind of fuel as a 2000 calorie meal of almond crusted grilled salmon, steamed broccoli, baked sweet potato and side of wild rice.
And while most people think of muscle building when they talk about protein, according to Webmd.com there are more benefits to protein than that. “…a study of 130 U.S. Marines looked at intense exercisers who supplemented their diet with 10g of protein, 8g of carbohydrates, and 3g of fat. They had fewer infections, less heat exhaustion, and less muscle soreness…”
Protein and a Sports Diet
The amount and type of protein recommended in a sports diet will vary depending on your sport or the type of training you are involved in. In general, it’s recommended that you take in protein within 30 minutes after a workout. A protein shake is one of the most convenient ways to get that done. Over the counter protein drinks are easy enough to find; however, it would be a good idea to take a look at that label to find out what kind of protein is used. Same thing if you are using a protein powder. What are the different kinds of proteins?
- Milk Protein-this is a good high quality source of protein
- Whey Protein – this is the protein that is found in milk. Because it can be absorbed quickly, it’s a good choice after an intense workout. Some may not be able to tolerate whey protein.
- Casein Protein – this is the main protein in milk. It’s absorbed more slowly and could be the reason that some weight loss articles came out with the advice to drink milk right before bedtime to reduce belly fat. However, in a recent interview with Paul Cribb, PhD, he revealed that taking a slower acting protein source (casein) before going to bed at night can improve your post-exercise overnight protein balance.
- Egg Protein – another good source of a high quality protein
- Soy Protein – this is considered to be just as effective of any animal based protein. However, because of the added benefits of antioxidants, and because it’s plant-based, some prefer this over an animal-based protein.
The quality of the protein you’re consuming matters too. Some argue that as long as you’re eating protein, you’ll get what you need. It’s true; you have to get your essential amino acids through food or dietary supplements, because your body doesn’t produce these “essential” protein building blocks on its own. And studies show that the leucine content (EAA) in your protein is an indicator of the quality.
The myth is that consuming protein will result in muscle gain. This is just not true. What is true is that your body’s ability to absorb protein will determine the fitness results you get. So it’s important to consume the right kind of protein at the right time to get the results you’re looking for.
What About Timing and Sports Diet?
Some research has shown that when you eat is just as important as what you eat. This may be even more true for the athlete. To continue performing at optimal levels you have to replace the nutrients that you use during training. At the same time, you have to build up the muscles and endurance needed and provide the right blend of vitamins, minerals, and hydration. It all works together.
Your sports diet before a workout should give your body what’s needed to train and get the results you require. For that reason, there are dietary supplements that are made specifically to be taken before a workout.
During your workout, it’s important to stay hydrated. It’s easy to forget to do this…until you drop from overheat or exhaustion. The Sports, Cardiovascular, and Wellness Nutrition (SCAN) dietetic practice group of the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends drinking a 6-8% carbohydrate solution to replenish glycogen stores and electrolytes every 10-15 minutes during training.
After your workout, your sports diet should include protein. There is a short period after a workout where you muscles are most receptive to protein absorption. Many athletes miss this opportunity because they simply don’t plan on feeding their muscles right away and miss a perfect opportunity to enhance their workout efforts. Change up this routine. Bring a protein drink with you, or put a scoop of protein powder in a container so all you have to do it add water. Planning your sports diet ahead of time will ensure success.