Food and Nutrition
Healthy Nutrition for Athletes

​​Overview:

Our bodies consume more calories when we engaged in physical activities. Energy is used to nourish muscles, increase respiration, heart rate, and metabolism. Therefore, you must follow a healthy and balanced diet to gain more strength and endurance during training, in addition to keeping your body hydrated by drinking enough fluids.

Importance of healthy nutrition for athletes when exercising:
  • Helps with performance during training.
  • Reduces chances of injuries and getting sick.
  • Helps with recovery after training.
Every person’s needs are different. Your nutrition depends on your age, height, weight, and physical condition. It also depends on the sport or activity you do and how intense it is. 

Nutritional elements that supply your body with energy:
Eating the right combination of diverse and balanced nutrients - carbohydrates, proteins and fats - gives the body energy to achieve optimum performance
1. Carbohydrates
The main role of carbohydrates in physical activity is to provide energy. It provides about 60% to 70% of daily calories because it is the main fuel for the brain and muscles during exercise.
  • Carbohydrates can be found in many foods, including: fruits, vegetables, pasta, breads, grains and rice.
  • The body converts the sugars and starches in carbohydrates into energy (glucose), or stores them in liver and muscle tissues (as glycogen). This gives the body endurance and strength for high-intensity, short-term activities.
  • If your body runs out of carbohydrate during exercise, it burns fats and proteins for energy. This leads to poor performance.
  • The amount of carbohydrates that your body needs depends on the type of physical activity you do, its duration, and its intensity. So athletes participating in competitions need more carbohydrates than regular gym goers. This helps their intake of carbohydrates match the intensity of their activity.

Tips to maintain your level of carbohydrates for better physical performance:
  • Eat some carbohydrates before and after exercise. This ensures you get an adequate amount of carbohydrates at the start of your training and replenish your supply of glycogen after exercise.
  • Eat extra carbohydrates when exercising or competing for over an hour to replenish your energy and delay fatigue.
  • Eat carbohydrates several days before your competition (race) to provide your muscles with the amount it needs.

The following table shows the recommended carbohydrate intake, which depends on the intensity and duration of your workout sessions:
Intensity of physical activity
Type of physical activity
Recommended amount of carbohydrates (per kilogram of body weight a day)
Light
Low intensity/skill based
3-5g
Moderate
Moderate exercise program one hour per day
5-7g
High
Endurance program (1-3 hours/day, moderate intensity exercise)
6-10g
Very high
High commitment (> 4-5 hours/day, moderate intensity exercise)
8-12 g

These requirements are general. Individual energy needs and type of exercise must be taken into account. For example, a person weighing 70 kg, when doing light activity, will need 210-350 grams of carbohydrates per day. If this person partakes in medium to high intensity exercises for two hours a day, they will need 420-700g of carbohydrates per day.

The following table shows the carbohydrate content in some common foods:
Source of carbohydrates
Meal size
Carbohydrates (g) per serving
Whole grain wheat pasta (boiled).
180g
49.5
Whole grain rice (boiled).
180g
52.6
Whole grain bread
80g
33.6
Bananas
100g
20.3
Oats
24g
15.1
Broccoli
80g
2.8

2. Protein
  • Protein is important for your athletic performance. It boosts your body's ability to store glycogen, reduces muscle pain, and promotes muscle repair. It also gives your body the ability to build new tissues and fluids.
  • Proteins should make up about 12% to 15% of your daily calories. It is best to choose low-fat proteins (such as: Lean meat). 

It is a common misconception that eating large amounts of protein alone increases muscle mass, but the truth is:
  • Eating too much protein means that you may not be getting enough carbohydrates, which is a more efficient source of energy for sports.
  • Eating large amounts of protein can increase energy intake (calories); which may lead to weight gain.
  • ​There is also evidence that consuming too much protein can lead to an increased risk of osteoporosis on the long run. It may also worsen kidney problems.
  • Protein supplements should not be used as replacements for protein-rich meals. They do not contain all the vitamins and nutrients that a balanced meal would provide.

Your body cannot store more protein; so it either burns it for energy or turns it into fat. The amount of protein that your body needs depends on:
  • Your fitness level; 
  • Type, intensity, and duration of your exercise; 
  • Carbohydrates intake; 
  • Total daily calories.

Recommended protein intake:
  • For adults and those who do a total of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activities per week, the amount of protein they need is 0.7g per kilogram of body weight a day.
  • As for those who do sports on a regular basis (such as: training for sprint running, cycling, or weightlifting), their protein needs may be slightly higher.
  • Protein requirements for athletes who engage in strength and endurance trainings are as high as 1.2-2.0g of protein per kilogram of body weight a day.
  • Timing of protein consumption is important in the recovery period after training. It is recommended to consume 15-25g of protein with some carbohydrates 30 minutes to two hours after training.
  • Protein supplements cannot provide all of the different nutrients found in protein-rich foods.

The following table shows the protein content in some common foods:
​​Protein source
Meal size
Protein content (g) per serving
Grilled chicken breast
120g
38.4
Grilled salmon fillet
120g
29.5
Grilled steak
130g
40.3
Cooked green beans
200g
10.0
Eggs
120g
16.9
Half cream cheddar cheese
30g
9.8
Half cream milk
200ml
7.0

3. Fat:
  • Fat is necessary for your body in small quantities. However, it is also rich in calories. Consuming fat-rich foods can lead to an increase in calories, which eventually leads to weight gain.
  • Fat should make up no more than 20% to 30% of your daily intake of calories.
  • It is recommended to replace unsaturated fats with saturated fats in your diet. This reduces the level of cholesterol in the blood, and thus reduces the risk of heart disease and stroke.
  • Saturated fats are found in animal products (such as: meat, eggs, milk, and cheese). Unsaturated fats are also found in plant products (such as: corn oil).
  • How your body uses fat for energy depends on the intensity and duration of the exercise you do. For example, when a person exercises at a low to moderate intensity, fat is his body's main fuel, so the more intense the exercise, the more your body consumes carbohydrates for energy. 
  • If your body consumes all its glycogen supply while you are exercising, it will burn fat for energy; which reduces the intensity of your exercise.

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