Whether you are a beginner or experienced athlete, staying properly fuelled while training or competing is a challenge. However, with a little nutrition knowledge and few skills in the kitchen, you can ensure your energy levels always stay where you need them when it counts!
Hydration is key to an athlete’s performance. With today’s massive sports drink market, there are many choices available to replenish the fluid lost through sweating. While it’s important to note that sports drinks are a good choice when you are training at high intensity for over 60 to 90 minutes, good old water is usually your best choice. If you don’t like water, add in some lemons, limes or cucumber to give it a bit of flavour. Challenge yourself to drink only water for a week. After that, chances are, it will be the main drink you’ll crave.
Post-workout, chocolate milk is an excellent recovery drink. It is very effective at rehydrating and replenishing electrolytes. The carbohydrate (sugar) and protein go right to the muscles to start the recovery process. Plus, it provides some calcium and Vitamin D for the day!
If you’re striving for athletic excellence, get to know and follow Canada’s Food Guide. You will notice that the foods you should be eating most are fruits and vegetables, followed by grain products. People often aim to get plenty of protein but neglect to concentrate on other important food groups. Most of your energy comes from grain products and most of your vitamins and minerals come from fruits and vegetables. If you are a high-performing athlete, you’ll likely have to eat more than the recommendations for your age group (some people can eat upwards of four times the amount listed!) but the proportions should always remain the same.
Though vitamins and minerals don’t give you energy (that’s what the carbohydrates are for!), they do play a key role in metabolizing carbohydrates and fats. Since these are your main muscle fuels during exercise, not having enough vitamins and minerals (i.e. not enough vegetables and fruit) will really compromise your performance. Vitamins/minerals are also involved in repairing and building muscle protein so, without a sufficient quantity, it is difficult to recover from exercise to your full capacity. While you might be tempted to simply take multivitamins every day, be careful! Vitamins and minerals are never absorbed as well through tablets as they are through food.
Putting it into practice
• Eat a variety of foods that cover all the colours of the rainbow. Your plate at every meal (breakfast included!) should include several colours. Brightly coloured fruits and vegetables typically have higher quantities of minerals, vitamins and antioxidants.
• Eat enough calories. Make sure to eat enough food to get the calories, vitamins and minerals you need. Focus on complex carbohydrates (unprocessed carbs), including fruits, vegetables, beans and whole grains, such as quinoa and bulgur.
• Remember that fruit juice does not replace fruit. With juice, you do not get the much-needed fibre. Plus, it takes at least five oranges to make a cup of orange juice. You wouldn’t eat five oranges in one sitting!
To achieve peak performance, athletes should be encouraged to obtain their energy from carbohydrates. In addition, the wide range of required antioxidants, vitamins and minerals need to come from real foods such as fresh, frozen or canned fruits and vegetables. If you don’t have a minimum of five fruits and vegetables a day (over 15 for high performing adult athletes), you are deficient and will not be able to maximize your performance!