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Home > Nutrition for Athletes: What, Why and When To Eat

Nutrition For Athletes

 What, Why And When To Eat

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Table of Contents:

1. Why is Sports Nutrition so Important
2. Essential & Non-Essential Nutrients For Sports Meals
3. Important Game Day Meals
4. Additional Meals 
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Why is Sports Nutrition so Important

Two critical keys to peak athletic performance is the athlete's energy and hydration levels, both components of proper sports nutrition. From a nutrition standpoint, energy levels is control by the amount of carbohydrate stores in the body. Carbohydrates is like fuel in a gas tank for cars. You can't go hard or far with no fuel.

Hydration is controlled by the amount of fluids in the body. Dehydration can cause fatigue and muscle cramps. A fluid loss of only 1-2% can seriously hamper athletic performance, and cause dehydration. This amount of fluid can be lost in just one hour of training. Clear, or light-colored, urine suggests that the body is well hydrated; conversely, dark urine suggests dehydrated. In this case, start drinking water, or a sports drink such as Gatorade, immediately.

Another important component of an effective nutrition plan for athletes is recovery. This will be addressed in the post-game nutrition section below.

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Essential & Non-Essential Nutrients For Sports Meals

Carbohydrates

As mentioned briefly earlier, carbohydrates is the fuel for an athlete's body. Athletes need lots of carbs, especially during days of training or competition. Athletes should aim to consume four grams of carbohydrates per pound of bodyweight.

The farther the meal is from the game, or training session, the higher the concentration of complex carbs the meal should contain. Complex carbs provide long-term energy, whereas, simple carbs/sugars provide short-term energy, and can cause sugar crashes. Only consume simple carbs just before, during and after the competition or practice.

Examples of complex carbohydrates are yams, brown rice and whole wheat bread. Examples of simple carbohydrates include most fruits, sports drinks, white bread, potatoes, and white rice.

Protein 

Protein helps in muscle repair after practice, competition and weight training. Athletes should aim to consume 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight. Protein takes longer to digest than carbs, so only consume moderate amounts before training/game.

Fish, chicken breast, bison, turkey, low-fat diary and lean beef (filet mignon) are excellent sources of lean protein for athletes.

Fat

Fat is a source of energy for athletes; however, fats are a less efficient source of energy than carbs. Fat and oils take a long time to digest in the body, so athletes should limit its consumption before training/game. Digesting food while training will leave athletes feeling sluggish.

Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats (nuts, avocados, olive oil, and fish) can aid in burning energy, and is good for overall health.

Vitamins and Minerals

Vitamins and minerals will prevent deficiencies that could negatively effect athletic performance. Multi-vitamins, fruits and vegetables are a good source of vitamins and minerals.

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Important Game Day Meals


Pre-Game Meal - 2 Hours Before Game/Practice

Goal: The first goal of the pre-game meal is to build up energy stores with complex carbs. We are going to be eating a high carb, low fat meal, two hours before game/practice. As a general rule for the pre-game meal, approximatley 2/3 of the plate should consist of carbohydrates, and 1/3 lean protein. Avoid all fats during the pre-game meal.

The second goal of the pre-game meal is to continue pre-hydrating the body by drinking lots of fluids. 

Pre-Game Meal Tips:

1. Do NOT skip this meal, it will hinder your game performance if you do, especially towards the end of the game.
2. Add salt to these meals if you're prone to cramping during games. Another tip to prevent cramping is to replace the glass of water in the pre-game meals below with a 16oz sports drink.
3. Avoid fats and oils at this time.

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Pre-Game Meal - Alternative #1
Pasta (70% of the plate)
Chicken breast
2 glasses of water 

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Pre-Game Meal - Alternative #2
Brown Rice (70% of the plate)
Fish 
2 glasses of water

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Pre-Game Meal - Alternative #3
2 Sweet Potatoes (70% of the plate)
Pork
2 glasses of water

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Pre-Game Drink - 30 Minutes Before Game/Practice

Goal: Top up fluid and carbohydrate levels just before the game.

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Pre-Game Drink
Sports drink (8 oz)

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Game Time Nutrition- During Game/Practice

Goal: To maintain the athlete's energy and hydration levels in order to delay fatigue and help the athlete finish the game strong.

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Part 1
During the Game

Take 4 to 8 gulps of a sport drink every 20 minutes (one gulp is roughly equivalent to 1oz). So you want to drink 12-24 oz per hour.

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Part 2
Half-Time - Alternative #1

Energy bar (recommended: Balance Gold by Balance).
6-8oz sports drink

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Half-Time - Alternative #2
Energy gel (recommended: Energy Gel Blasts by PowerBar).
6-8oz sports drink

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Half-Time - Alternative #3
Banana

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Post-Game Nutrition- Within 1 Hour After Game/Practice

Goal: To maximize the athlete's recovery via replenishing energy stores and fluid levels within the first hour after the game, which should improve the athlete's recovery time from 72 hours (without post-game nutrition) to within 24 hours. Fast and adequate recovery is crucial so that athlete can compete and/or train within the next day or two after the game with minimal effects on performance.

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Part 1 - Recovery Drink - Within 15 minutes After Game

The recovery drink will begin restoring the athlete's energy levels (glycogen stores).

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Part 1
Recovery Drink - Alternative #1
Sports drink (Gatorade)

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Recovery Drink - Alternative #2
Smoothie (in a blender mix milk, low fat yogurt/ice cream, mixed fruit frozen/fresh, and water)

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Part 2 - Fluid Replacement - Within 15 minutes After Game

In order to determine the amount of fluid that needs to be replaced, the athletes should weigh themselves before and after the game. Drink 2 cups of fluid (sports drink or water) for every pound lost.

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Part 2
Fluid Replacement
2 cups of water or sports drink for every pound lost
Note: The recovery drink above counts as part of your fluid replacement.

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Part 3 - Post-Game Meal
- Within 1 Hour After Game

This meal will help further restore glycogen levels and begin muscle repair. This meal is going to be very high in carbohydrates. It's within the first 2 hour window when the majority of carbs ingested will go straight to muscle energy stores, with very little going to fat stores.

Depending on the size of the athlete, consume 100 to 400 grams of carbs during this important meal.

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Part 3
Post-Game Meal - Alternative #1 
Pasta (1.5 cups - 322 calories) 
Filet Mignon
Salad
Multi-Vitamin Supplement

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Post-Game Meal - Alternative #2 
Whole Wheat Bread (4 slices - 270 calories)
Chicken Breast
Salad
Multi-Vitamin Supplement

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Post-Game Meal - Alternative #3
Brown Rice (2 cups - 90 calories)
Crackers
Salmon
Salad
Multi-Vitamin Supplement

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Additional Meals

Breakfast Meals

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Breakfast - Alternative #1
Oatmeal
Banana
Apple Juice (8 oz)
2% Milk (8 oz, 2%)

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Breakfast - Alternative #2
Whole Grain Cereal with 2% milk
Apple
Orange Juice (8 oz)
2% Milk (8 oz)

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Breakfast - Alternative #3
Eggs (3 whole eggs)
Toast (two pieces) with Jam
Whole Wheat Muffin
Pear
Cranapple Juice (8 oz)

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Lunch Meals

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Lunch - Alternative #1
Turkey Sandwich
Apple
Orange
Apple Juice (16 oz)

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Lunch - Alternative #2
Chicken Breast
Salad (large portion)
Orange Juice

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Lunch - Alternative #3
Bagel with peanut butter
Mixed Vegetables (1 cup
Cranapple
Milk

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Dinner Meals

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Dinner - Alternative #1
Spaghetti
Chicken Breast
Salad (small)
Multi-Vitamin Supplement

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Dinner - Alternative #2
Rice
Bison
Vegetables (1 cup)
Multi-Vitamin Supplement

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Dinner - Alternative #3
2 Yams
Filet Mignon
Salad (small)
Multi-Vitamin Supplement

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Snacks (in between meals)

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Snack - Alternative #1
Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich
Small Bag of Pretzels
Juice (or water)

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Snack - Alternative #2
6 Fig Cookies
Yogurt (small container)
Juice (or water)

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Snack - Alternative #3
Smoothie (in a blender mix milk, low fat yogurt/ice cream, mixed fruit frozen/fresh, and water)

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