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NUTRITION FOR ATHLETES- GAINING A COMPREHENSIVE UNDERSTANDING OF SPORTS NUTRITION:

What sets sports nutrition apart from other fields of nutrition? Sports nutrition is the study and practice of nutrition and diet focused on improving athletic performance. Its specific emphasis on enhancing performance through diet distinguishes it from other areas of nutrition.

Diet is just one component of sports nutrition, albeit an essential one. To become a successful sports nutritionist, you must possess a thorough understanding of human physiology and metabolism, sports science, exercise physiology, sports psychology, supplements, and a basic knowledge of various sports.


THE KEY TO FUELING ATHLETES

Integrating your understanding of metabolism, energy systems, and diet is the first step towards designing programs that can enhance athletic performance. Let's start with the basics and review the general recommendations and applications of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats.

Carbohydrates are the body's primary fuel source, particularly for red blood cells and the brain. They are quickly broken down and converted into ATP, making them the preferred energy source. Carbohydrate recommendations are divided into two categories: endurance and strength.

Endurance athletes, who engage in high-volume and high-intensity training, have higher caloric and carbohydrate needs. It is recommended that endurance-based athletes consume 7-13g/kg/day of carbohydrates. Strength athletes, on the other hand, have lower training volumes compared to endurance athletes. Therefore, carbohydrate recommendations for strength-based athletes range between 5-8g/kg/day.


Protein is often regarded as the most critical macronutrient in sports nutrition because of its role in muscle recovery. Although protein doesn't provide high energy output, it is vital for building and repairing muscle tissues and maintaining the immune system. Endurance athletes are recommended to consume 1.5-2g/kg/day of protein, while strength athletes have slightly higher needs of 1.7-2.2g/kg/day.


Fats are necessary for delivering essential vitamins and nutrients, combating inflammation, and supporting healthy hormone function. Fat recommendations are similar for both endurance and strength-based athletes, ranging from approximately 1.5-2g/kg/day. Endurance-based athletes with high caloric demands may require slightly higher fat intake.


While general recommendations form the foundation of sports nutrition, it is the strategic utilization of macronutrients during specific time windows that truly distinguishes this field. We refer to this practice as nutrient timing. By delivering specific nutrients at precise intervals, athletic performance can be significantly enhanced, and recovery can be accelerated.

Here are some basic guidelines for strategic fueling:

  • Consume at least 30-50g of carbohydrates + 5-10g of protein 30-60 minutes before exercise.

  • Endurance-based athletes should consume approximately 1g/kg of high glycemic carbohydrates 30-60 minutes before exercise and competition.

  • For exercise exceeding 90 minutes, consume about 30-60g of simple carbohydrates in a carbohydrate/electrolyte solution every 10-15 minutes throughout the exercise session.

  • Within 30 minutes to 2 hours post-exercise, consume approximately 1g/kg of carbohydrates + 0.5g/kg of protein to optimize recovery.

WHAT ABOUT HYDRATION?

Hydration is another crucial aspect of sports nutrition, considering the highly active nature of athletes. During physical activity, sweating occurs, leading to fluid loss. Losing just 2% of body weight in fluids can significantly impair aerobic performance. Therefore, ensuring adequate fluid consumption for athletes and active individuals is of utmost importance.

For exercise lasting 60 minutes or less, water alone is sufficient for hydration. However, when exercise exceeds 60 minutes or takes place in hot/humid conditions, electrolytes need to be replenished to compensate for those lost in sweat. Electrolytes are vital for maintaining fluid balance and normal muscle contractions. Consuming electrolyte beverages during exercise lasting more than one hour can enhance performance.

Since the goal of sports nutrition is performance enhancement, a comprehensive understanding of supplements is crucial. This is a topic that garners significant interest, and knowing which supplements have scientific merit is essential for providing valuable information to clients.


Before recommending a supplement, ensure it adheres to these five cardinal rules:

  1. The supplement lists every individual ingredient.

  2. Beware of supplements labeled as "proprietary blends."

  3. The supplement has been tested for banned substances. Look for labels such as "NSF Certified Sport," "BSCG," and "Informed Choice."

  4. The supplement utilizes branded ingredients/raw materials.

  5. Dosages are based on scientific research.

  6. The supplement meets cGMP manufacturing standards and contains a banned substance label.

If you're looking for a starting point, here is a list of supplements with strong evidence supporting their use:

  • Beta-alanine

  • Caffeine

  • Creatine

  • Sodium Bicarbonate

  • Electrolytes

  • Energy Drinks & Pre-workouts

On the other hand, some supplements have limited evidence to support their use:

  • Arginine

  • Carnitine

  • Glutamine

  • MCT

  • Theanine


EVERY BODY IS DIFFERENT

Understanding body composition in relation to different athletic pursuits is a vital aspect of sports nutrition. In endurance-based sports, having a leaner composition is often advantageous, while power sports may benefit from higher body fat and greater muscle mass. Having extensive knowledge of ideal body composition ranges for various sports will guide your clients towards achieving appropriate, healthy body composition.


However, there are less obvious duties in the field of sports nutrition. While it's crucial to stay within your scope, possessing training in counseling, understanding psychology, and familiarizing yourself with medical conditions or injuries is important for becoming a well-rounded sports nutritionist. Disordered eating patterns, food phobias, and distorted body images are common in the world of sports, and knowing how to counsel clients with these behaviors is critical to their performance. Additionally, active individuals are prone to injuries, so understanding how to assist and enhance the healing process is essential.


Sports nutrition encompasses more than just understanding the fundamentals of nutrition. It involves utilizing the science of food in conjunction with physiology to manipulate specific systems within our bodies to achieve desired performance outcomes. Although sports nutrition may seem narrow, you'll quickly discover its intersection with various other fields. Succeeding in thiscompetitive field requires a deep understanding of the sports culture, psychology, and even clinical aspects of sports and fitness.

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