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Optimal Nutrition for Athletes - Tips for Fueling and RE-fueling

Being an athlete requires unique nutrition demands.  In order to ensure your body has the fuel it needs at the right time, it is important to make sure you are constantly monitoring what you are eating.
Note: There are many diets designed for weight-loss that DO NOT lead to optimal performance.  The information contained in this handout is designed for optimal nutrition for the ATHLETE.  If you are following one of these diets (i.e., Atkins, South Beach), read this information carefully, and feel free to ask any questions of me or your healthcare provider.
The information contained in this handout is compiled from leading experts in the field of Sports Nutrition, and is intended for the competitive athlete, whose nutritional demands are very different from individuals attempting to change body (i.e., lose weight, gain muscle mass, etc.).
On a daily basis, the athlete’s body needs to replace energy used in a) normal daily activities, and b) practice/games.  Energy is measured in calories, and is broken down into the following categories:
  • Carbohydrates:  
  • Readily available energy, easiest to break down.
  • Come in 2 forms : simple (sugars), and complex carbs (breads/pastas/cereals, etc.)
  • Research shows that athletic performance depends to some degree on the amount of carbohydrate-derived fuel available in muscle cells.
  • Should constitute about 40% of diet on a daily basis.
  • This can increase considerably, depending on individual needs!
  • examples: fruits, vegetables, whole grains (pasta, bread), cereals, legumes
  • Fats:  
  • Concentrated energy.  SOME is necessary.
  • However, excessive fat intake reduces emptying from the stomach, slowing down the availability of energy to the body.
  • Examples: mayo, cheese, butter, oils, etc
  • Should constitute no more than 30% of daily diet.
  • Proteins:  
  • Muscle is broken down during exercise, and protein is essential for rebuilding.
  • Examples: red meat, fish, chicken, etc
  • Should constitute about 30% of daily diet.
“You’ve told me about the macronutrients. What do I need on a daily basis?”
  • Carbohydrates:
  • Should constitute about 40% of diet on a daily basis.
  • This can vary depending on individual needs, but generally 40%
  • examples: fruits, vegetables, whole grains (pasta, bread), cereals, legumes
  • Fats:
  • Should constitute no more than 30% of daily diet.
  • Examples: mayo, cheese, butter, oils, etc
  • Protein:
  • Should constitute about 30% of daily diet.
  • Examples: red meat, fish, chicken, etc
“Now I know what I need on a daily basis.  What do I need before competitions?”
Before competition, the athlete needs to increase intake of energy their body will have available later that won’t break down too fast.  Also, substances that prevent the body from using all available energy should be avoided.  Remember that energy needs during single competitions are going to be much different than day-long/multi-day tournaments!
  • Increase carbohydrate
  • Avoid sugars, excess salt and caffeine.
  • These serve only to deplete available energy.
  • Sugars are TOO readily available – the result is an energy boost that lasts 30 minutes.
  • Salt and caffeine increase the rate of dehydration in the body
What to Drink?
  • Juice (100%) – watered down to reduce amount of sugar in a serving - EXCEPT citrus juices (they are too acidic)!!!
  • Sports drinks – can be watered down to reduce amount of simple sugars (Equal parts water and sports drink)
So how do I do that?
How does one eat successfully for competition?  First of all, keep track of what you eat!  Remember that what you put in your body is the fuel your body will draw on during competition.  Following are some SUGGESTIONS for meals before and during one- and multi-day competitions.
Single-day event
The Night before:
  • Carbo-load
  • Choose pasta, rice, potatoes, whole-wheat bread with some sort of protein
    • Several glasses with dinner
    • Lemonade is OK
    • REST!!
  • More carbs than protein or fats
  • 1 bagel w/ light cream cheese or jam/jelly
  • Juice or water (Avoid orange juice – too much acid!)
  • More water
During the day:
  • Lunch: sandwich on wheat (NOT white) bread with light lunch meat or tuna salad w/ light mayo; peanut butter & jelly, bagel with cream cheese, a piece of fruit
  • Smaller meals eaten throughout the day are preferred to 1 bigger meal
  • Snack on carbs regularly: wheat crackers, bagels, bread, energy bars, fresh fruit, nuts
  • Energy Bars: Clif Bars, Luna Bars (made by Clif Bar), PowerBars, PowerBar Harvest Bars, Balance Bars, or any other bar geared for long-lasting energy.  Nutri-Grain bars contain too much sugar, and in addition are made with hydrogenated oils, which are VERY BAD for your heart.
  • Problems with “just having a salad”
  • Not enough energy to fuel you for competition!
  • Watered-down (by half) sports drinks
Dinner/ Post-event meal (the most important meal of your competition day/weekend!!)
  • Pasta with some sort of protein (fish, shrimp, meat, poultry) or
  • Hot sandwich – burger/chicken/turkey burger
  • Salad is OK in ADDITION TO a combination of carbs/protein
  • AVOID SODAS and SUGAR-FILLED DRINKS – drink iced tea, water
  • Warning!!  Iced tea will contribute to dehydration!!  DO NOT drink iced tea during summer tournaments!!
Multi-day tournaments:
  • Eating during the day should be similar to above
  • Hydration is VERY important
  • Dinner/Post-event meal is most important - Remember carbohydrates (pasta, rice, potatoes) WITH some protein (fish, poultry, meat)
“I’m running around like crazy.  Can I eat fast food, and still be ready for my event?”
Keys to eating “on the run”   
  • Choices, choices, choices
  • Choose a meal with minimal fats, more carbs, and some protein!!
  • Avoid higher fat foods, sodas, and too much salt
  • Can one go fast-food and still be ready to play?
  • YES!  BUT, choices affect play.

Suggestions for eating healthy fast food
  • fatty condiments on the side, and use them sparingly!
  • Low-cal dressings
  • 1 fried food per meal
  • regular sized choices instead of large
  • lose the cheese!  Regular burger instead of cheeseburger
    • veggies on pizza instead of meats
Final Thoughts
  • Nutrition for athletes is a 24 hr/day, 7 day/week thing, not just a pre/post-game thing, especially when you train 6 days a week.  Keep that in mind.
  • The only person who controls what you eat is you.  If you intend to read this and move on, try the following: eat whatever you want before one practice and see how you feel, then eat carefully before the next practice, and compare your performance.
  • During your season, you need to devote all of your resources (fueling and re-fueling) to performing on the court.  Throughout the course of a season, you may lose or gain some weight.  However, you should NOT attempt to change your body during the season.  If you want to change something about your body, try changing in the OFF-season. 
  • The suggestions contained in this material will greatly increase your chances for optimum performance over the course of a single day, and over the course of multiple days.  In the end, though, the choice is YOURS! 
  • If you have any questions, now or while we are traveling, please don’t hesitate to ask!!