Most people are surprised to learn that unhealthy eating and a lack of physical activity are two of the leading causes of death in the United States. If you’re active, it’s important to know that poor or improper nutrition can have a detrimental affect on an athlete, and can result in numerous and potentially serious health issues.
An athlete, without proper nutritional intake can become dehydrated, become anemic or suffer from glycogen depletion, exercise-related fatigue, inflammation and/or stress fractures. When an athlete is fatigued, the chance for injury increases, and with poor nutrition on a daily basis, chronic conditions such as iron deficiency and low bone mineral density are probable.
Instances where nutrition deficiency can lead to injuries range from a dancer who is not eating properly to a runner who is pushing himself or herself further distances and not adding calories or hydration to compensate for that expendable energy increase. The body must meet its daily energy needs and an athlete who puts extra demand on his or her body needs sufficient overall calories. An athlete who is not consuming enough nutrients will not perform at peak level and risks health issues and injuries.
Information and suggested nutritional guidelines can vary.
The American Heart Association (AHA) compares a person’s body to that of a vehicle and to keep your “engine running,” you need to keep it adequately fueled. That means eating and drinking the right amount of foods and fluids at the right times. They suggest eating a variety of fruits and vegetables, as well as whole grains, low-fat dairy products, poultry, fish (twice per week) and nuts, and limit red meat, sugary foods and beverages. For more information, visit the American Heart Association.
The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) noted that athletic performance and recovery from training are strengthened by proper nutritional intake. They suggest athletes focus on a variety of whole foods. An athlete’s focus should be on whole foods which include lean proteins, fiber-rich whole grains, fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy and healthy fats such as nuts or seeds. Further information can be found at National Collegiate Athletic Association.
The U.S. National Library of Medicine concurs that athletic performance can be enhanced by nutrition. They note that the optimum diet for an athlete is not that different from that of a normal, healthy person. The main difference lies in the type of sport, amount of training that is done, and the amount of time spent on the sport or activity. For more information, visit the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
Nutritionists believe that complex carbohydrates, which are mostly stored in the muscles and liver, are needed by all athletes in order to provide energy during exercise. Complex carbohydrates include whole grain breads and pasta, as opposed to simple sugars.. Protein is also important to an athlete in order to help with muscle growth and to repair body tissues.
One of the most important and often overlooked nutrients for an athlete is water. Consuming enough water and fluids daily to keep the body properly hydrated with the proper level of electrolytes is vital for an athlete. Athletes cool their bodies through sweating more efficiently than non-athletes because their bodies are used to the stress, which means their fluid needs are higher than those who are less fit. More information can be found at Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
“It’s important to realize that these are all general guidelines and there are many variables such as what type of workout you are doing that all factor in to your nutritional needs,” said South County Physical Therapy, Inc. Executive Director Eric Cardin. “While there are many suggestions and guidelines out there, only you can make an informed decision that is right for you.”
One of the best ways to track daily caloric intake is by using a cell phone app, which can track daily calorie count and calories burned. Some recommended apps to check out are MyFitnessPal and MyNetDairy.
“Athletes who are having difficulty maintaining a well-balanced diet should consult a health care professional to discuss their own unique needs and challenges,” Cardin said. “An injured athlete has a different set of needs and will have a modified training plan. An integral part of that plan is the athlete’s nutritional needs. At South County, many of our therapists are also athletes, which give us the added benefit of truly understanding the nutritional challenges an athlete faces. We are able to work with each of our patients to tailor a complete nutritional plan that works for them.”
For more information regarding nutritional plans, call 508-832-2628.