It doesn’t matter if you play only on the weekends or professionally, if you’re into sports, you need a specific nutrition for yourself. The right diet helps your body perform better and recover faster.
We recently interviewed Michael Clarke, former captain of Australian cricket team and Gautam Gambhir, captain of an IPL team on the importance of proper, nutritious diet for a sportsperson.
Let’s breakdown which micro and macro- nutrients you need as an athlete.
Macronutrients for an Athletic Lifestyle
Macronutrients mainly help construct the body, strengthen it and energize it. They are the mandatory fuel without which we cannot function.Regular practice, exercise and training sessions deplete body’s energy levels which means that you need to include more macro-nutrients to make up for the loss and recover faster.
How much should I take? Depends on your physical activity, hours, and intensity of that activity.
How would I know how much to take? Seek help from a nutritionist.
Let’s discuss these nutrients one by one over here.
Carbohydrates (or carbs)
Carbohydrate is the primary fuel for the body. It is stored in body’s muscles as glycogen which when required, breaks down into glucose for quick absorption and use.Do you know that at any time, your muscles have glycogen sufficient enough for 60-90 minutes of high intensity exercise? That’s why you can go any day at the gym and just take on any workout.But what happens if you go one practicing even these 60-90 minutes? Muscle pain – an indicator of low energy. Now you know why there is such massive emphasis on post-workout nutrition.
Another reason is muscle fatigue which dampens on-field performance and happens when you don’t consume adequate carbs.
Everybody knows what these do – repair and rebuild muscles. However, very few know that if you don’t consume enough carbs, body would start breaking down the protein in your muscles to make energy for everyday activities.
Rely on good and natural sources of protein such as chicken, turkey, beef, lamb, pork, fish, eggs, dairy foods, nuts and seeds.Be careful with extreme consumption: Taking too much protein could give way to health problems. So if you’re an athlete, you need a well-balanced, well planned diet to keep up with your performance and your health. And if your sport calls for more strength and endurance training, you need more protein in your diet.
Till the time you don’t consult a dietitian specialising in sports nutrition, use this as a reference: 1.2 to 1.6 grams of protein per kilogram of body mass per day.
Most people say that fats are unhealthy and one should just not consume an ounce of it. Well, they’re deeply mistaken.Fats are the main source of fuel for sports of long duration but low to moderate intensity, such as marathons. Moreover, you cannot access carbs during high intensity sports if your body lacks sufficient fats.
Therefore, if you’re cutting down on fats, consume ‘healthy’ fats sourced from nuts, seeds, fish, reduced-fat dairy foods, lean meat and avocados. Simultaneously, limit intake of ‘unhealthy’ fats found in biscuits, pastries, chips and deep fried foods.One word of caution here: Avoid fatty foods immediately before or during intense exercise because they digest extremely slowly and remain in the stomach for a long time.
We know, water is not a macronutrient, but it is a universal solvent – no nutrients will be absorbed without water. Hence, good hydration is as important as training to any athlete.You sweat during exercise. This is body’s internal cooling mechanism to fight the heat produced during the physical activity and protect your internal organs. But a lot of sweating could dehydrate your body.
Therefore, have lots of fluid before, after and during any workout or sports to replenish the loss through sweating.
Wondering what’s the best drink for sports? Check out what Gautam Gambhir has to say about his favourite sports drink for rehydration:
Apart from coconut water, other sources of great hydrating drink include milk and commercial sports drink which are also more effective enhancing performance.
2 Essential Micronutrients for Every Athlete
In a balanced diet, most of your micronutrients will be covered automatically. However, here are some that need special attention:
- Why you need it: Helps release energy from the body and transport oxygen to all organs
- What happens when it’s low: Tiredness, lethargy
- Good sources (non-vegetarian): Lean meat, chicken and seafood
- Good sources (vegetarian): Legumes, green leafy vegetables and iron-fortified cereals
- Why you need it: Helps strengthen bones and improves muscle activity
- What happens when it’s low: Muscle sprains
- Good sources (non-vegetarian): Salmon, Sardines
- Good sources (vegetarian): Milk, yogurt, cheese, Broccoli
So, the athletes out there! Don’t compromise on your diet if you don’t want your health or performance to be affected. Don’t overdo that too. For tips, here are some tips by Gautam Gambhir: