Sports Nutrition: Frequently Asked Questions

What is the best diet for an athlete?

The athlete's diet should provide the right amount of energy, essential vitamins, minerals, and protein plus adequate water. No single food or supplement can provide all the daily requirements. A variety of foods are needed every day.

Do the nutritional needs of athletes differ from non-athletes?

Competitive athletes, sedentary individuals and people who exercise for health and fitness all need the same basic nutrients. Particular health conditions may require additional supplementation. The intensity of an individual sports or training program may cause some athletes to have higher calorie and fluid requirements. Eating a variety of foods to meet increased calorie needs helps to ensure that the athletes diet contain appropriate amounts of carbohydrate, protein, vitamins and minerals.

Are there certain dietary guidelines athletes should follow?

Health and nutrition professionals recommend that 55-60% of the calories in our diet come from carbohydrate, no more than 30% from fat and the remaining 10-15% from protein. The exact percentages may vary slightly for some athletes based on their sport or training program. These guidelines will promote health and serve as the basis for a diet that will maximize performance.

How many calories do I need a day?

This depends on your age, body size, sport and training program. For example, a 250-pound weight lifter needs more calories than a 98-pound gymnast. Exercise or training may increase calorie needs by as much as 1,000 to 1,500 calories a day a day.

The best way to determine if you are getting too few or too many calories is to monitor your weight. Keeping within your ideal competitive weight range means that you are getting the right amount of calories.

Which is better for replacing fluids - water or sports drinks?

Depending on how muscular you are, 55-70% of your body weight is water. Being "hydrated" means maintaining your body's fluid level. When you sweat, you lose water which must be replaced if you want to perform your best. You need to drink fluids before, during and after all workouts and events. Whether you drink water or a sports drink is a matter of choice. If your athletic event lasts for more than 90 minutes, you may benefit from the carbohydrates provided by sports drinks. A sports drink that contains 15-18 grams of carbohydrate in every 8 ounces of fluid should be used. Drinks with a higher carbohydrate content will delay the absorption of water and may cause dehydration, cramps, nausea or diarrhea. There are a variety of sports drinks on the market. Experiment with sports drinks during practice instead of trying them for the first time on the day of an athletic event.

What are electrolytes?

Electrolytes are nutrients that affect fluid balance in the body and are necessary for our nerves and muscles to function. Sodium and potassium are the two electrolytes most often added to sports drinks. Generally, electrolyte replacement is not needed during short bursts of exercise since sweat is approximately 99% water and less than 1% electrolytes. Water, in combination with a well-balanced diet, will restore normal fluid and electrolyte levels in the body. Replacing electrolytes may be beneficial during continuous activity of longer than 2 hours, especially in a hot environment.

What do muscles use for energy during exercise?

Most activities use a combination of fat and carbohydrate as energy sources. The intensity and duration of your workout directly affects the type of fuel your body uses. For short-term high-intensity activities like sprinting, athletes rely mostly on carbohydrate for energy. During low-intensity exercises like walking, the body uses more fat for energy.

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