The Intense Athlete’s Diet
High intensity sports like Soccer, Basketball, Track, Water Polo, and Football require serious nutrition to provide the extra energy needed for optimal athletic performance. Your stamina, recovery, speed and strength all depend on proper diet and nutrition. It’s simple. Think of it this way, what comes in (your diet) is what comes out (your energy).
Intensity sport athletes need to consume enough calories to support their large, hard-exercising bodies. The American Dietetic Association (ADA) recommends that players consume between 5,000 and 9,000 calories on practice and game days.
According to Leslie Bonci, Director of Sports Nutrition at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and diet consultant to the NFL`s Pittsburgh Steelers, a player`s daily caloric intake should be made up of 60% carbohydrates, 30% healthy fats and 15% protein.
Bonci states that the nature of high intensity sports makes carbs the primary fuel substrate. Proper carbohydrate choices include whole grain pastas, breads and cereals. Fresh fruits and vegetables also give athletes a carbohydrate kick and a quick energy boost.
Stick with using fats with known heart-healthy properties. Olive oil, nut oils and canola oils are all good choices. Other types of fat don`t supply the fuel you need to build up your muscles and can cause indigestion and stomach cramps to boot.
Protein helps you build and maintain muscle mass, but your typical athlete really just needs a small amount of protein each day. Excess protein is just stored as fat and can even cause dehydration.
Healthy proteins include nuts, dried beans, fish, poultry, lean beef and soy products. You can also meet your protein requirements by consuming low-fat milk, greek yogurt, and eggs.
Proper hydration is also critical for both your game performance and to ward off heat-related health issues. If you sweat a lot, as much as 10 liters of body fluids each practice session or game, according to the ADA.
To replenish lost body fluids, players should consume between three and six liters of water a day during practices and on game days. Be sure to drink water, fruit juices or sports drinks at every meal, even on your days off.
If you are a salty sweater, drink plenty of sports drinks in addition to plenty of water. Salty sweaters often find salt rings on their clothes or skin and might feel gritty after exercising.
Never use caffeinated or alcoholic beverages to hydrate your body. Alcohol actually increases the risk of dehydration as well as slows down your reaction time. Caffeine stimulates the production of urine, which can also lead to dehydration if you`re not careful.
High intensity athletes need to follow a regular schedule when it comes to eating. Create and stick to a diet plan that includes three meals a day with healthy snacks in between. Skipping breakfast is not an option if you want optimal performance.
Prior to a game, eat a low-fat, carbohydrate-rich and lean-protein meal. Fats take longer for you to digest, so eating fatty foods can leave you feeling full and lacking the energy you need to perform at your best.
Eat grilled or baked lean meats with whole grain pastas, rice or baked potatoes and fresh fruit for dessert.
A healthy post-game snack can replace all of those calories you lost through play, but you need to eat it within 20 minutes of the game or practice session. Refuel with a bagel and cream cheese, peanut butter crackers, a sports bar, trail mix or greek yogurt with granola.
If you need refueling during a game, go for a snack full of simple carbohydrates, such as those found in various energy bars. Simple carbohydrates enter your bloodstream fast to give you quick energy.