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Sports Nutrition, Bars and Drinks

Sports Nutrition, Bars and Drinks

Becoming a professional athlete needs dedication, hard work, and good genes, no doubt, but a good nutrition plan is essential to reach peak physical condition and perform accordingly. Inadequate or improper nutrition can harm more than one may realize, and unhealthy eating habits can translate into poor results on the playing field. An athletes daily diet requires special planning and care to ensure nutritional needs are met. The following are the components that should constitute the diet plan.

Sports nutrition is a branch of nutritional science which focuses on the unique nutritional needs of athletes. People who want to achieve better athletic performance for casual sports and workouts often need to adjust their diets to meet their physical needs, and professional athletes often use the services of an experienced dietitian or nutritionist to make sure that their diets are designed appropriately. Numerous references on sports nutrition for specific sports can be found in print around the world.

Athletes burn a lot of energy, which means that they need to consume more energy than sedentary individuals. One of the best sources of energy is carbohydrates, making an increased carb intake critical for an athlete, and athletes also usually require slightly more protein. They also need the recommended amounts of fruit and vegetables, and a well designed diet may also include some wiggle room for treats ranging from ice cream to slices of cake.

Another critical nutritional need for athletes is water consumption. Failure to drink enough water can result in an electrolyte imbalance, which can cause medical problems. Therefore, it is important for athletes to integrate water into their dietary plans, and to make sure that water is consumed in appropriate amounts at the right intervals, as too much water can also be damaging.

Different types of athletes have different nutritional needs, as do male and female athletes. Sprinters and marathon runners, for example, require different things from their bodies, and they also train differently for races, which means that their diets will be different. Sports nutrition considers the sport an athlete is involved in, and his or her physical condition. Different nutrition may also be involved for training, tapering down after a meet, or gearing up for a meet.

Sports Nutrition, Bars and Drinks

Many athletes also try to eat food which is healthy, in addition to nutritionally necessary. They may opt for a heavy concentration of fresh foods, for example, and try to avoid packaged foods if possible. Whole foods like unhusked grains, whole fruit, and so forth can be very popular with athletes, to ensure a rich balance of vitamins and minerals in the diet.

Sports clubs and gyms sometimes offer nutrition for sports workshops, which are an excellent resource for information on sports nutrition. Personal trainers can also provide tips and advice, whether people are trying to build muscle for bodybuilding, or trim down for rock climbing. Athletes at all levels can also work with nutrition professionals to tailor a diet regimen which will meet their needs, and to learn more about the complex science behind sports nutrition.

While food is what we eat, nutrition is what we need. Although the nutrition requirements vary according to the event in which the athlete participates, there are certain general guidelines regarding the diet of athletes. A healthy diet includes the following elements.

1. Carbohydrates
Carbohydrates form an essential part of an athlete's diet. Gram for gram, they provide more energy than most other forms of food. In the initial stages of light to moderate exercise, close to half of the total energy requirement is met by carbohydrates. During the process of digestion, the body converts carbohydrates into glucose and stores it in the form of glycogen. When exercising, glycogen stored in the muscles is changed back into glucose and used for energy. For endurance training and athletes who must exercise for long durations at a stretch, such as long distance runners, cyclists and marathon participants, a high carbohydrate meal eaten two or three days prior to an event can provide the energy stores that are needed for extended periods of high intensity exercise. Complex carbohydrates are foods like spaghetti, potatoes, cereals and other whole grains, simple carbohydrates come from honey, fresh fruits and milk.

2. Fats
Fats also provide energy to the body. For long duration events, the body may also use energy derived from fats, though trained professionals use fat for energy, quicker than untrained athletes. During prolonged sessions of heavy duty aerobic exercise, more than three quarters of the energy can be derived from fats.

3. Proteins
Once carbohydrate and fat stores are depleted, the body turns to protein for energy; high intensity exercise may cause an athlete's needs for dietary protein to increase. However an athlete's diet plan would require lower amounts of protein, than say, the average person - only about 10-12% of total calorie intake needs to come from protein. In addition, in experienced athletes, muscle is built by extensive training, as opposed to protein intake. Also, high protein diets may lead to dehydration, or increased metabolic rates, leading to increased oxygen consumption - which could have otherwise been used for exercise.

4. Vitamins and Minerals
Vitamins assist in better absorption of iron and play an important role in the metabolism of proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. Fruits and vegetables in general, contain vitamins. Fibers keep the bowels regular and reduce blood cholesterol. Vitamins act as antioxidants, thereby preventing cell damage. Athletes are more vulnerable to cell damage as they inhale more oxygen.

Minerals like calcium and iron are good for health. Calcium strengthens the bones, thus, preventing stress fractures that are common in athletes. Skimmed milk, milk products, and eggs are rich in calcium. Iron produces oxygen in the body. Deficiency of iron leads to fatigue, and hinders the ability to perform for longer periods.

Most diet plans of athletes are varied enough to be able to meet needs for vitamins and minerals, hence supplementation is rarely advisable or required. However, heavy exercising causes sweating, which may lead to loss of potassium, sodium, iron and magnesium. Some athletes may benefit from salts added to water during endurance training.

Iron is required for the formation of hemoglobin and therefore in carrying oxygen. It is contained in meat, poultry, fish, and some vegetarian diets as well. Excessive intake of iron can lead to constipation. Calcium is essential for building strong teeth and bones, and zinc is required for normal growth and for energy production in muscle cells. Dairy products are a good source of calcium. A normal diet is enough to replenish the loss of sodium due to sweating. Excessive sodium intake should be avoided.

And last but not the least, water. Water levels directly affect fluidity of blood which transports nutrients, and therefore energy, inside the body. It also regulates the body temperature. Low temperature fluids should be preferred as a source of water as they are absorbed quickly. It is better to consume water at regular intervals during the day and not wait until the thirst makes itself felt, because by then, the athlete is exhausted. This is in addition to the ad hoc consumption during exercise.

Sports Nutrition, Bars and Drinks

Apart from the nutritional requirements, certain dietary practices are of great help. To start the day on a high metabolism and keep the hunger in check, it's necessary to have a healthy and adequate breakfast. Ideally, five meals should be eaten daily. This spreads out the intake, helps digestion, and keeps the energy levels high. Post-exercise meals aid in quick recovery of lost energy. Also, it is advisable to stay away from canned and fried foods.

Dos and Don'ts for Athletes
• One of the biggest nutritional concerns for athletes is water depletion, which occurs due to heavy strenuous training, and causes dehydration. Dehydration leads to weakness. Drinking lots of water is the only remedy.

• Athletes need more calories than people who do not exercise. Intake of healthy snacks before a workout will provide the required energy. Some people feel very hungry after a workout, and hence, eating a good snack will not only provide necessary nutrients but also keep you from overeating during the main meal. Some healthy snacks are apple and banana slices, peanut butter, dry cereals with dry fruit, vegetable juice, whole grain and low-fat milk. Junk foods and fast foods are a strict "NO".

• Eating regularly is very important. Athletes should take 5 small meals rather than 2 or 3 heavy meals. They should avoid snacking during day time, especially during an event or a workout. First two meals of the day are very crucial and should be large as compared to other meals of the day.

• Meal planning, for example, timing of meals should be taken care of. If one is having a heavy meal, then it should be ensured that the meal is taken at least 4 hours before the workout. And if the meal is a lighter one, it can be taken 2 or 3 hours before the workout.

• Vary your diet every week. Never stick to a particular diet. Sometimes, the athletes prefer a particular food and stick to it. This has two demerits: Firstly, you get bored of the diet, and secondly, eating the same diet will devoid your body of the various nutrients it needs.

• Last and one of the biggest concerns of athletes today is alcohol consumption. "You can't be sharp, quick and drunk." Alcohol, a depressant, contributes about twice as many calories as equal amount of carbohydrates and proteins. It is needless to say, that calories in beer are fattening. If taken in large amount, alcohol can drastically decrease the level of serum testosterone, which results in decrease in muscle recovery and athletic performance. It can cause testicular shrinkage and reduce the sperm count in males. In female athletes, it may raise the production of estradiol, a form of estrogen, which can increase the chances of breast cancer.

Athletes require more nutrients than any other person. They lose a lot of nutrients when they sweat. Taking food which has empty calories can deprive the organs of vital vitamins and minerals. This can increase the risk of heart attacks in athletes. Hence, just as crude oil is to motor vehicles, good diet is for athletes. A good diet should never be underestimated.

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