Elite athletes prepare for years in hopes of taking home the gold. In addition to the countless hours spent training, they also spend time focusing on good nutrition to fuel their workouts. There is a lot of negativity surrounding carbohydrates, but carbohydrates are the primary fuel source for our bodies and are a critical part of sports nutrition. Greater than 50% of the energy fueling a workout over one hour is derived from carbohydrates. Long duration sporting events, such as marathon running and the triathlon, require an athlete to consume carbohydrates during the event to replenish the diminished carbohydrate stores. It is also important to replace carbohydrate stores in between events. Healthy carbohydrate options include fruits, yogurt and milk, and whole grains. Many athletes use supplements and are beginning to formally endorse these products. Gels and sports drinks are quick and easy ways to replenish carbohydrates but are not mandatory. One can use whole foods as well to provide the same benefits. Athletes do need to take caution with certain dietary supplements. These are not regulated by the FDA and there is a lack of scientific evidence to support using these dietary supplements. Some contain harmful additives and are simply ineffective.
Protein is also important. Protein requirements for elite athletes are greater than that of the general public. Protein is necessary particularly after an exercise session to maximize protein synthesis, help with long term muscle maintenance as well as muscle gain, and to repair damaged tissues. Healthy protein sources include lean meat, chicken and turkey breast, fish, eggs and dairy foods.
Lastly hydration is vital to an athlete’s performance. Athletes need to hydrate before an event, during an event, and after an event. Fluid choices should include sodium to account for this loss through sweating.
Healthy eating is an integral part of sports nutrition, but of course no one is perfect every day. There is always room for a “day off,” elite athletes included. When one decides to partake in treats it is still important to be mindful of portions. Treating oneself to a higher calorie, lower nutrition meal or snack is not going to throw off positive results of healthy eating and exercise. The issue is when one starts having daily treats and gets further away from healthy eating principles. The goal is to get back on track as soon as possible.
By: Gillian Arathuzik, RD, LDN, CDE