More than one study found that cyclists, ice hockey players, and runners performed better when they ingested a higher carbohydrate diet. Athletes who train exhaustively on successive days or who compete in prolonged endurance events need to consume a diet containing 60 to 70 percent of total calories from carbohydrate.
The protein requirements for athletes in certain strength sports such as weightlifting are still controversial. Protein is needed to build and repair muscle, help produce hormones, boost the immune system, and replace red blood cells.
Athletes need slightly more protein than the average American to build new muscle tissue as well as repair the damage done during intense training. The metabolism of protein during exercise is multifactorial. This process is altered by certain stimuli, such as intensity, duration, and type of exercise, as well as training environment, protein and energy intake, age and sex of the individual.
How much protein does an athlete need? The truth is that no scientific evidence has proven that protein intake exceeding 0.9 grams of protein per pound of body weight will provide an additional advantage. Excessive protein is oxidized and is stored as a triglyceride.
The most rapid use of fuel regardless of intensity occurs during the first 20 to 30 minutes of exercise. Before and during exercise the goal of an athlete is to provide him or herself with quality carbohydrates to sustain the activity. Athletes need carbohydrates to prevent the depletion of glycogen stores, increase the immune function, minimize muscle damage, and prepare the enzymes for a faster muscle recovery.
Immediately after exercise (within 30 minutes) the goal of the athlete is to provide the body with carbohydrates and protein to shift the metabolic activity, speed elimination of waste by increasing blood flow, replenish glycogen, initiate tissue repair, prepare for muscle growth, reduce muscle damage, and improve the immune system. The body will stay in a catabolic state (muscle break down) if food is not supplied. Animal studies show that those who are fed within 30 minutes of exercise completion have a 6 percent increase in lean body mass, fat oxidizing enzymes are increased by 70 percent, and abdominal fat decreases by 24 percent.
So what should a training diet look like? Approximately 60 percent of an athlete’s diet should steam from carbohydrates with a mix of vegetables, fruits, whole grains and small amounts of low fat, organic dairy. About 30 percent of an athlete’s diet should come from lean proteins, fish, poultry, lean meats, beans, and low fat, organic dairy. Another 10 percent of an athlete’s diet should come from quality fats, olive and canola oils, nuts and nut butters, seeds, and avocados.
Smart nutrition goals for every athlete are to always enjoy a nutrient rich, mostly plant-based diet. Always fuel before, possibly during and after exercise. Balance energy by eating small, frequent meals throughout the day and be sure to hydrate adequately with water, herbal teas and natural juices. Good nutrition will always enhance exercise performance. Never let poor nutrition be a limiting factor.