Sports nutrition is an exciting and constantly evolving topic. It has become a real field of scientific research that continues to progress for amateur sportsmen and professional athletes.
And it's not for nothing! Indeed, specialists have repeatedly demonstrated that diet affects health, physical performance and recovery. This article will give you the essential foundations on this important subject to achieve your goals.
Table of Contents
- Our sections dedicated to sports nutrition
- Latest articles on sports nutrition
- What is sports nutrition?
- Basis of sports dietetics: Macronutrients
- The purpose of sports nutrition
- Diet for athletes
- Eating according to your sporting needs
- Hydration and athletic performance
- Use of food supplements
- Special dietary needs
- Micronutrient deficiencies in athletes
- Role of a Sports Dietitian
- The final word from Sport Chez Soi
Our sections dedicated to sports nutrition
Before going any further, here are the different sections dedicated to sports nutrition and supplements on this site:
PROTEIN REQUIREMENTS : Everything you need to know about the most important nutrient for building muscle and losing weight. Today the vegetable proteins can replace whey proteins when they contain at least 8 essential amino acids.
PERFORMANCE COMPLEMENTS : Hormones play an important role in mass gain or fat loss. Natural supplements (or not) can really make your life easier and improve your results.
Latest articles on sports nutrition
What is sports nutrition?
It's the foundation of sporting success. A well-designed nutritional plan allows amateur and professional athletes to perform at their best during training or competition. The athlete's diet should provide the right type of food, energy, nutrients and fluids to keep the body well hydrated and functioning at optimum levels.
A sports diet can vary from day to day, depending on the specific energy needs of the day. It is therefore a complex field since the specific needs of each person are different. The diet of an athlete must therefore be planned according to his individual objectives.
Difference Between Diet and Nutrition
Well, without wanting to quibble, there is an important difference between the two, even if they are often confused. To make it simple, let's say that:
- We call nourishment the simple fact of absorbing food;
- Nutrition is defined as all the physiological functions necessary for the use (metabolization) of nutrients for the growth, maintenance, functioning of the organism, as well as to produce heat and energy.
Basis of sports dietetics: Macronutrients
Energy for life and physical activity comes from food and water intake. The following macronutrients provide essential energy for the body to function optimally:
Although they are not essential for our survival, simple or complex carbohydrates represent the energy source most important in the human body. They are the main source of energy for our brain, central nervous system and muscles.
Our body stores very few carbohydrates. It retains an average of 100 g of glycogen in the liver and 400 g in the muscles, making a total of about 2000 Calories. When training hard or at high intensity, it is important to consume enough carbohydrates to replenish your glycogen levels.
Simple carbs include sugars naturally found in foods like fruits, vegetables, and milk. Wholemeal bread, potatoes, most vegetables and oats are examples of healthy complex carbohydrates. Your digestive system breaks down carbohydrates into glucose, or blood sugar, which fuels your cells, tissues, and organs.
Made up of a chain of amino acids, proteins are essential to every cell in the human body. Our body uses them to build our muscles, repair our cells and make enzymes, hormones and antibodies.
They can be complete or incomplete. A complete protein contains the 8 or 9 amino acids needed by the body and comes mainly from animal sources such as meat, fish, poultry and milk. The vegetable proteins are said to be incomplete because they often lack one or more of the essential amino acids. However, these cannot be produced by the body and must be provided by food.
Protein is essential in sports nutrition because it plays an important role in muscle recovery and growth. This is why they must have an important place in your meals, including breakfast.
Difference Between Protein and Protein
We often confuse proteins and proteins because these 2 terms are related. According to the website Discovery of the RTS the term protein refers to all amino acids and the association of these amino acids into more complex molecules, such as dipeptides (two amino acids), tripeptides (three amino acids), all polypeptides (which can be up to hundreds of amino acids) and proteins (formed of one or more chains of polypeptides).
In other words, the term protein includes, from smallest to largest:
- Amino acids (the basic building block)
- Polypeptides (from 2 amino acids associated in dipeptide)
- Proteins (chains of polypeptides)
3. Lipids or fats
Fats can be saturated or unsaturated and play a vital role in the human body. The unsaturated fats are considered healthy and come from plant sources like olive oil and nuts. They are very important in a sports nutrition program.
The saturated fats are found in animal products like red meats and high-fat dairy products. They are not considered healthy for the body. This does not mean that they should be completely banned from a meal plan. It is just necessary to limit them as part of a varied and balanced diet.
Lipids provide energy, help in the development of the body, protect our organs and are an important part of the membrane of all our cells, the myelin of the nerves (sheath), the bone marrow or the structure of our brain. . Like proteins, they are therefore essential for the proper functioning of the body.
The purpose of sports nutrition
Active adults and athletes turn to sports nutrition to help them achieve their goals. This includes gaining lean muscle mass, improving body composition or seeking better athletic performance. These sport-specific scenarios require different nutritional programs.
Research findings indicate that the right type of food, calorie intake, nutrient timing, fluids and supplementation are specific to each individual and the physical preparation put in place.
Here are different examples to illustrate the importance of sports nutrition according to the objectives pursued:
Eating for athletic performance
Training programs require a well-designed diet. Research shows that a balanced nutrition plan should include enough calories and healthy macronutrients to optimize athletic performance. The body will use either carbohydrates or fats as the main source of energy, depending on the intensity and duration of the exercise.
A insufficient calorie intake can actually impair trainability and athletic performance.
Active adults who exercise 3-4 times a week can usually meet their needs with a healthy, normal diet. Athletes who train intensively 5-6 times per week will require a more adequate nutrient intake to meet their energy needs.
For example, the energy expenditure of cyclists participating in the Tour de France can range up to 9000 Calories per day. If you compare that to the 2000 Calories of an average man, that's huge! That being said, of many sports practiced intensively burn 1000 Calories per hour.
Diet for athletes
Let's go back for a moment to the importance of each macronutrient in sports nutrition:
Daily carbohydrate requirements
Carbohydrates are the primary source of fuel for an active adult or competitive athlete. General guidelines for carbohydrate intake are based on body size and training characteristics. According to Anita Bean, sports dietician, carbohydrate requirements in a daily diet can vary from 3 to 7 g of carbohydrates per kilogram of body weight (BW) for people with little or moderate activity.
|CARBOHYDRATES CONSUMPTION: DAILY RECOMMENDATIONS|
|Activity level||Recommended consumption|
|Low or low intensity activity||3 to 5 g/kg EP|
|Medium intensity (1 hour per day)||5 to 7 g/kg BW|
|Quite intense training (1 to 3 hours a day)||6 to 10 g/kg BW|
|High intensity training (> 4 hours per day)||8 to 12 g/kg BW|
Source : Journal of Sport Science
Daily fat requirements
Fats help maintain energy balance, regulate hormones and restore muscle tissue. Omega 3 and omega 6 are essential fatty acids that are particularly important for a sports nutrition regimen. Research results recommend that an athlete consume about 30% of his caloric intake total daily as healthy fat.
Even with a weight loss objective, lipids must represent at least 25% of calories for the day. There is therefore no point in chasing the fat 0%. Instead, focus on prioritizing healthy fats in your diet.
Daily protein requirements
Being responsible for muscle growth and recovery, the role of complete proteins is therefore essential for athletes. Adequate amounts of this nutrient help maintain a positive nitrogen balance in the body, which is vital for muscle tissue.
Protein requirements can vary greatly between individuals, generally ranging from 0.8 g to 2 g per kilogram of body weight per day. But these numbers can vary upwards to achieve certain specific goals such as fat loss or lean muscle gain. However, the maximum recommendations are below 3 g per kg of body weight.
Eating according to your sporting needs
When eating for training or competition, the distribution of nutrients can vary greatly. It depends above all on the objective and the sport practiced. Here are some examples :
Eat for stamina
We talk about an endurance program when we do 1 to 3 hours a day of intense or moderate exercise. A high energy intake in the form of carbohydrates is essential in this type of session.
According to research, the target consumption of carbohydrates in a sports nutrition program for endurance athletes ranges from 6 g to 10 g per kilogram of body weight per day.
The fat is a secondary source of energy used during long training sessions. That's why long distance runners are rarely fat. Endurance athletes are more at risk of dehydration. Replacing fluids and electrolytes lost through sweating is necessary for optimal performance and to limit the risk of injury.
If you do this type of sport, you can compensate with lightly salted and sweetened water or isotonic drinks to maintain a good water and mineral balance.
Sports nutrition to be stronger and more muscular
Resistance training programs are designed to gradually increase skeletal muscle strength. It is usually a high intensity sporting activity. Strength training requires sufficient amounts of all macronutrients for muscle development.
Protein intake is especially important for increasing and maintaining lean body mass. Research indicates that protein requirements can range from 1.2g to 3.1g per kilogram of body weight per day.
Eating for a competition
Preparation for competitive sport will vary in sports nutrition requirements. For example, athletes who need strength need to increase their lean muscle mass. Conversely, endurance runners focus on reducing body weight and fat for optimal body function during their runs.
Sports goals therefore determine the best nutrition strategy. Pre- and post-workout meal planning is unique for each athlete and essential for optimal performance.
Hydration and athletic performance
A good hydration and adequate electrolytes are essential for health and athletic performance. We all lose water throughout the day, but active adults and athletes lose extra body water (and a significant amount of sodium) through sweating during intense workouts.
Dangers of Dehydration
The dehydration is the process of losing body water, and water deficits greater than 2 TP2T of body weight can compromise athletic performance, cognitive function, or lead to heat stroke.
Athletes are recommended to use fluid replacement strategies as part of their sports diet to maintain optimal body functioning. Rehydration is often achieved with water and isotonic drinks containing sodium.
Lack of hydration can lead to the following consequences:
- Hypohydration (dehydration)
- Hypovolemia (decreased plasma/blood volume)
- Hyponatremia (low blood sodium/water intoxication)
To make sure you are well hydrated before training or competition, drink 5 to 10 ml per kg of body weight within 2 to 4 hours before. For a 70 kg person, this represents 35 to 70 cl of water.
During sport, minimize fluid loss as much as possible, ideally compensating for all lost fluid. However, you should avoid drinking in excess as the following point indicates…
Watch out for overhydration
Indeed, sports nutrition experts warn against excessive hydration before and during exercise. This is particularly important during endurance events beyond 4 hours. Drinking too much water can lead to excessive blood dilution and a drop in sodium levels. Although rare, this phenomenon can be fatal.
The American College of Sports Medicine recommends drinking when you're thirsty, but just enough to maintain your weight, not so much that you gain. Sports drinks containing sodium are useful when the fluid loss due to sweating is more than 1.2 litres/hour. This is particularly the case for intense sports sessions lasting more than 2 hours.
Use of food supplements
Sports food supplements or supplements are products marketed to enhance athletic performance. Their use remains a personal choice that is sometimes controversial. There are, however, supplements whose effectiveness is backed by clinical research.
Supplements can be classified into 3 main categories:
- Sports food: sports drinks, energy bars and gels, electrolyte supplements, vegetable or animal protein powders, hard gainer and lean gainer, liquid meal supplements, etc. ;
- Vitamin and mineral supplements: iron, zinc, calcium, vitamins, multivitamins, multiminerals, omega 3 and many more;
- Performance extras: creatine, caffeine, guarana, sodium bicarbonate, beta-alanine, nitrate, creatine, L-carnitine, BCAA, etc.
Special dietary needs
Sports nutrition covers a wide range of athlete needs. Certain populations and environments require additional guidelines and information to improve athletic performance.
Here are examples of situations involving a specific approach for athlete meals:
Dietary needs of vegetarian or vegan athletes
A vegetarian diet does not include any meat, fish, seafood, or other products from dead animals, such as pork gelatin. Some vegetarians, however, consume eggs or dairy products such as cheeses. A vegan or vegan will refuse all animal products of any kind.
These diets contain high intakes of plant proteins, fruits, vegetables, whole grains and nuts. Many people believe that this type of diet is not suitable for an athlete. There is nothing to prove this kind of assertion. Top athletes even seem to demonstrate the opposite.
However, a vegan athlete must carefully assess his needs to avoid deficiencies and provide his body with the adequate nutrients to meet his sporting requirements.
Food for veterans and seniors who play sports
Our energy needs tend to decrease as the years go by after our thirties. This is partly due to the loss of muscle mass and therefore a drop in basal metabolism (the calories necessary for the functioning of our body at rest). Another factor is the reduction in physical activity with age.
Recent studies suggest that everyone should consume more protein in getting older. And this is particularly the case for veteran or senior athletes. This protein intake helps maintain muscle mass, strength and mobility. An active and healthy adult should consume at least 1.2 to 1.5 g/kg of body weight per day.
Nutritional Requirements for High Altitude
Although this blog is dedicated to sports at home, some of you practice trekking or skiing. However, specialized training and sports nutrition are required to adapt to the altitude. You need to increase your red blood cell count to carry more oxygen. Iron-rich foods are therefore important for this kind of sporting activity.
Exercising at high altitude, especially above 2500 meters, can cause certain pathologies called acute mountain sickness. Foods rich in antioxidants and proteins are essential for maximum protection. Fluid requirements vary by athlete and hydration status should be monitored individually.
Sports food adapted to extreme temperatures
Hot environment: athletes who compete in hot conditions may suffer. Heat illnesses can have adverse health consequences. Fluid and electrolyte balance is crucial for these athletes. Hydration strategies are necessary to maintain peak performance in the heat.
Cold environment: the main concerns of athletes training in the cold are adequate hydration and body temperature. Leaner athletes have a higher risk of hypothermia. Modifying calorie and carbohydrate intake is important in this case. Appropriate foods and fluids that withstand cold temperatures will support optimal athletic performance.
Micronutrient deficiencies in athletes
Adults and active athletes should pay particular attention to their micronutrient intake. Exercise works on important body functions where vitamins and minerals are needed.
Additionally, athletes often restrict calories and certain food groups, which can potentially lead to essential micronutrient deficiencies. Nutrition studies indicate that the most common problems are:
- Lack of iron: can alter muscle function and compromise athletic performance;
- Vitamin D deficiency: can lead to a decrease in bone strength and muscle activity;
- Calcium deficiency: can impair bone tissue repair, decrease the regulation of muscle contraction and reduce nerve conduction.
Role of a Sports Dietitian
Professional athletes or highly motivated amateurs often seek practical advice from professionals to improve their athletic performance. Sports dietitians are increasingly being recruited to develop nutrition and hydration programs tailored to an individual athlete or team. You can learn how to become a Registered Dietitian by visiting the French Society of Sports Nutrition.
The final word from Sport Chez Soi
You can be an active adult exercising to improve your health or a competitive athlete. Either way, sports nutrition will play an important role in your success.
Through dietary rules, it will help you improve your athletic performance, promote muscle recovery and achieve your sporting goals.
If you learned anything from this article or if you want to share an important tip, leave a comment below. Thank you !
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