Nutrition is the most important factor in an athlete’s preparation regimen. Other than the actual workouts and participation in sport, nutrition is the one thing that athletes can almost completely control themselves. An athlete who wishes to perform at his/her maximum level will make a vigorous attempt at eating correctly and putting the right things in their body. The following article provides some support for recommendations as to what an athlete should do before, during, and after their workouts/events.
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First off, the most important part of nutrition is the before segment; technically everything after the practice, game, or event is complete is the “before” segment of preparation. Many coaches have a 24 hour rule to forget about a loss or to enjoy a win but a true champion recognizes that preparation for the next even must begin as soon as the last even has ended. (Sometimes this could even incorporate rest so do not think that just because one is technically in the “before” stage does not mean your body does not need rest! It does!)
With this being said, the more immediate before stage, about 3 hours to an hour before game time is a vital time in the future performance of an athlete. Different sports require different performance for athletes and those who perform workouts with short bursts of energy like rugby and football should prepare slightly different than those who play soccer or competitively run. For instance, carbohydrates have been found to be beneficial for all athletes before a sporting event but small amounts of caffeine with this carbohydrate consumption have been noted to increase testing results in rugby forwards by 2%. Excess caffeine is, of course, frowned upon and there has yet to be testing done on the long-term effects of this type of energy booster before performance. Additionally, the caffeine used in this experiment was found only to increase players performance results towards the beginning of the trial with no difference found at the end. This study does not suggest that athletes consume caffeine during events as this could be dangerous; however, the results have shown that those tested for short burst type workouts can improve their results by a small amount if they combine a small amount of caffeine with their pre-game carbohydrate consumption. (Roberts).
On the other hand, the same cannot be said of enduring workouts where even the previous study indicates that caffeine has no positive lasting effect on athletes throughout their performance. For endurance based exercises, the best approach for the “before” nutritional stage is to consume carbohydrates. Now it is important to not over-eat before an event but studies have shown that consuming Low Glycemic Index (LGI) carbohydrates like potatoes and lentils take longer to break down; thus, they provide for longer sustained nutrition in the body allowing athletes to extend their endurance of maximum performance. The LGI foods in this test were consumed an hour before performance. In other tests, foods were consumed 1 to 3 hours before an enduring event took place: Some of these test results showed that LGI carbohydrates also improved performance when consumed up to 3 hours before game time. Unfortunately, the latter studies did not measure maximum performance. As a result, it appears the studies indicate that it is best to consume LGI carbohydrates on a reasonably proportionate level about an hour before an event in order to achieve maximum performance.
Finally, the most important before measure for athletes to take is to stay hydrated. This once again begins as soon as the last event ends. Staying hydrated with plenty of fluids like water helps muscles retain power and the brain think properly. Dehydration can cause people to make irrational decisions and for their reactions times to decrease. Drinking water during a sporting event will not help an athlete as much as one would be helped by drinking plenty of water before the game/practice.
On this note, staying hydrated during the game is still important. The body loses water and valuable nutrients when the athlete sweats and it is vital to attempt to maintain the level of fluids that was in the body prior to exertion in order to perform at one’s best. The best way to stay thoroughly hydrated throughout the game is by consuming fluids during the before stage (starting at least a day in advance) but hydrating during the game is nearly as important. It has even been noted that despite its refreshing qualities, cold water as well as too much water has the possibility of causing cramps in the stomach.
Similarly, too many carbohydrates ingested during exercise can cause the athletes energy to be consumed by digesting rather than the sport. It is important to recognize that,
“The carbohydrate and fluid intake requirements of athletes during exercise vary depending on the nature, duration, and intensity of the event or training session and the climatic conditions.” (Donaldson, 159).
This holds true for all nutritional advice in sport; the individual athlete coupled with their situation and even the weather can affect the proper nutritional balance. Moreover, studies display that High Glycemic Index carbohydrates – those carbs that are digested and broken down quickly by the body – like foods containing glucose and/or sucrose increase, oxidation rates in the muscles when consumed during an event. The lesson to be learned from this is to consume most of your LGI carbs and fluids beforehand, but when needed for endurance events, consume smaller amounts of HGI carbs and fluids like water.
Once a sporting event is complete, the athlete must refuel his/her body; the body craves all the nutrients it has lost in the intense battle just completed regardless of the sport. Thus, it is important to consume the proper foods following any workout within an hour after completion. Again, rehydration is most important but the body needs to be refueled with food as well despite how not hungry one may be after an intense workout.
For starters, the body needs carbohydrates after an intense workout. Many athletes in short burst sports like rugby, football, and power lifting have been exposed to myths that carbohydrates are not good for you after a workout. This is not true because carbohydrates help replenish the chemicals in your body that tell muscles to build/recover. When carbohydrates are not consumed after a workout, the athlete misses out on the opportunity to chemically force their body into recovery. Additionally, consumption of carbohydrates inhibits the physical muscle damage that is done after an event; the muscle fibers during a sporting event are stretched and torn in ways that the athlete does not experience in between events. Ingesting carbohydrates helps deter the physical muscle damage done to the body by these intense events. It is important for an athlete to overlook the myth that carbs after a workout are bad because carbs can help negate the physical damage sports produce by their high intensity and because it helps muscles chemically recover. It has been found that ingesting only carbs after an event is best for endurance athletes but can still help others involved in short burst type sports. (Beelen).
Another more commonly applied nutritional source for after exercise is protein. This is no myth; the positive effects of protein are immediate as well as long lasting. Again, protein helps replenish the chemical process that are lost during a workout while facilitating physical muscle growth through amino acids once the muscle fibers are torn from intense workouts. Proteins like whey and casein help muscle growth and recovery especially after intense, short-burst workouts. Whey protein helps the muscles immediately recover where as proteins like casein breakdown slower and are utilized by the body hours after ingestion. This helps the metabolism process by supplying a constant source of protein energy over the course of several hours. (Beelen). Many athletes take casein protein before they go to bed or even with whey protein immediately after a workout in the mornings/afternoon in order to have a constant replenishing source of protein. Casein proteins are mostly found in dairy foods and other animal product foods; one should be careful about consumption and do their research (as with all supplements and nutrition foods) as this type of protein has been seen to produce carcinogenic qualities in tested animals. Overall, protein is the lifeblood for our muscles quite literally; consumption of protein after a sporting event, typically within an hour after completion provides athletes with the proper nutrition to recover and build muscle both physically and chemically.
Lastly, it should be pointed out that both endurance and short-burst athletes can benefit from a combination of carbs and protein; “the combined ingestion of a small amount of protein with a lesser amount of carbohydrates stimulates [muscle growth and inhibits muscle deterioration].” (Beelen, 526). Studies have shown overall that a balanced diet is best for all athletes but performing at maximum capacity requires a specialized diet that needs to be summarized by individuals needs for performance as well as their own bodies requirements. A combination of protein and carbohydrates after a sporting event is a great way to start off.
One final thing athletes should recognize is that all items mentioned above can be hazardous at certain levels. Anything, including water, can become poisonous and harmful to the body when too much is consumed and not enough is used by the body. Moderation is key and that moderation depends on the type of athlete one is and the type of sport one is involved with. More importantly, as mentioned above with items like caffeine, not all possible tests have been done with most nutritional advice. Items that may increase performance may also have the possibility of some day causing detriments to the body like some studies have shown casein does to animals. Other than moderation of the foregoing items, athletes should attempt to completely avoid artificial sweeteners in addition to drugs and alcohol. The obvious effects of the latter two have been displayed throughout the educational process and proven by sports stars that have come to deal with devious scrutiny regarding steroid usage and drug abuse. These are not the routes to go for an athlete wishing to succeed. Think about it this way: An athlete’s body is the greatest tool they have for the work they do; no professional would damage their tools because it would obstruct the work they sought to perfect so an athlete should do the same with the greatest instrument they are given, their body. The things you put into your body are exactly what you will get out of your body.
In conclusion, it is vital for an athlete to put the correct nutrition into their bodies before, during, and after sporting events and workouts. Not doing so could compromise their peak performance and even damage the skills they have previously gained through hard work. Outside of the actual workouts and preparation for an event, nutrition is the most important thing one can manage to help control the outcome of their sport. The phrase you are what you eat summarizes exactly what nutrition can bring to the table; an excellent performance or a dismal display that cramps your stomach and your style as an athlete.
Beelen, Milou, Louise M. Burke, Martin J. Gibala, and Luc J.C. Van Loon. "Nutritional Strategies to Promote Postexercise Recovery." International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism 20 (2010): 515-32. SPORTDiscus with Full Text. Web. 21 July 2011.
"Casein Protein - The Dangers." Healthy Diet - What Is It? Ez Healthy Diet (.com). Web. 22 July 2011. <http://www.ezhealthydiet.com/casein-protein.html>.
Donaldson, Carolyn M., Tracy L. Perry, and Meredith C. Rose. "Glycemic Index and Endurance Performance." International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism 20 (2010): 154-65. SPORTDiscus with Full Text. Web. 21 July 2011.
Roberts, Simon P., Keith A. Stokes, Grant Trewartha, Jenny Doyle, Patrick Hogen, and Dylan Thompson. "Effects of Carbohydrate and Caffeine on Performance During a Rugby Union Simulation Protocol." Journal of Sports Sciences 8th ser. 28.June (2010): 833-42. SPORTDiscus with Full Text. Web. 21 July 2011.
Serdar, Maja, and Zorka Knezevic. "Determination of Artificial Sweeteners in Beverages and Special Nutritional Products Using High Performance Liquid Chromatography." Environmental Health Service, Croation National Institute for Public Health 62 (2011): 169-73. SPORTDiscus with Full Text. Web. 21 July 2011.