Becoming a better athlete isn’t just about what you do in the gym and in games -nutrition is a vital component, too. What you eat plays a critical role in your energy levels, performance, and recovery. To understand what you should eat and when you need to know the main facts about nutrition for optimal athletic performance.
Macronutrients are the three main food groups -carbohydrate, protein, and fat. Carbs are crucial for athletes as they provide energy and should make up around 65% of our diet, according to the Health Education Department at Brown Universtiy. Competitive endurance athletes need around 0.5 to 0.6 gram of protein per pound of body weight each day, though if you’re a strength athlete, 0.6 to 0.7 gram per pound is beneficial. Fats should make up around 20 to 35% of your calories.
While many athletes focus on food intake, it can be easy to overlook hydration. You lose water through sweat when you train, which can have a detrimental effect on your performance if you don’t replenish your fluid levels. Water is your best bet, and drinking regularly every day is important, through it’s even more vital on game days. Colorado State University recommends drinking 2 to 3 cups of water with your pre-game meal, 2 to 2 1/2 cups two hours before and another 2 cups 20 minutes before. During the game, take in around 1/2 cup every 10 to 15 minutes, then 2 cups of fluid for each pound you lost during the game in the hours following it.
Pick foods that are high in nutrients and low in additives, preservatives, and refined ingredients advise sports nutritionist Dr. John Berardi in “The Essentials of Sport and Exercise Nutrition.” Your carbs should come from fruits, veggies and whole grains such as brown rice, quinoa or rolled oats. Get protein from lean meats, fish, and eggs, or beans and dairy products like cottage cheese and Greek yogurt, if you’ve vegetarian. For fats, look to mixed unsalted nuts, peanut butter, olive or canola oil, and avocados, as well as oily fish.
Eating well before an event ensures you have the energy to perform at your best, while a good post-workout meal helps you recover. Eat your pre-workout or pre-game meal three to four hours beforehand and base it around carbs and protein, advises nutritional scientist Dr. Kim Stein. Good options include potatoes or pasta with chicken, a scrambled egg tortilla or salmon with brown rice. Your post-workout meal should be similar, though you may want to include some faster-digesting carbs such as bagels or fruit, to quickly replenish your glycogen stores.