Every athlete out there has heard multiple theories about the right nutrition for your body. It is difficult to fact check everything you read on the internet; so we asked our expert nutritionist to break it down for all the readers looking for the science behind the nutrition.
So how does the body of an athlete work? How does nutrition help and what goes on in the body when one works out?
Read on for our expert nutritionist's insights!
Any form of exercise puts slight demand on our physiological systems and increases our need for nutrient stores. Specifically for athletes, this demand is quiet humongous on comparison with fitness enthusiasts. However, exercise does cause changes in nutrient metabolism and requirements of dietary as well as supplemental nutrients increase.
Let us take a look at the major nutrients and their heightened requirements during exercise:
- Carbohydrates: Glycogen present in the muscles is the closest and easily accessible source of energy. During long hours of training/ exercise, this glycogen gets depleted and there is hence a requirement to re-fuel our diets with adequate carbohydrates to re-store the lost glycogen. Many researches highlight that if exercise is begun with a low initial muscle glycogen level, fatigue sets in much faster. The pre-workout/training meal should therefore have adequate good quality carbohydrates to fuel your exercise and prevent early fatigue. Also during >2h of endurance training or event, consumption of a sports drink can be equally beneficial
- Proteins: Protein, known for its post workout muscle building role is often neglected when it comes to energy expenditure. During long hours of aerobic activities like marathons, swimming, cycling etc, amino acids specifically branch chain amino acids (leucine, iso-leucine and valine) are often used as a source of energy. The endogenous pool of amino acids is often compromised and the requirement for fast absorbing post workout protein in adequate quantities is drastically increased.
- Fats: These are often the preferred source of energy during long distance aerobic activities. The requirements do not specifically increase, as fats can be formed directly from carbohydrates and indirectly from proteins. However the quality of fats continues to stay important with the inclusion of mono and poly unsaturated fats in the right proportions.
- Water & electrolytes: The only nutrients lost in huge quantities during endurance exercise; water and electrolytes, are often the most ignored. Dehydration of even 2% loss of body weight can significantly hamper performance. Hydration drinks with adequate glucose and electrolyte composition are ideal to prevent the effects of dehydration.
- B-Vitamins: B1, B2 & B3 are involved as co-factors in the pathways that yield energy. Higher the energy expenditure through indulgence in exercise, the demands on enzymes and their co-factors is increased. B6 is involved in protein metabolism during exercise and muscle synthesis. B12 and Folate are essential for their roles in DNA metabolism and RBC synthesis. Requirements for multi-vitamins and B-complex vitamins may increase subsequently.
- Anti-oxidant Nutrients: Exercise often strips off the body?s endogenous anti-oxidant defense system with a build of oxidative stress. It is hence important to follow a diet rich in Vitamin A, C, E and some other nutrients like Copper and Zinc that are potent anti-oxidants that scavenge the hiked oxygen radicals to restore health and boost immunity. Vitamin C and Vitamin E supplements can play a significant role in keeping oxidative stress at bay.
- Bone health Nutrients:Calcium, Vitamin D, Vitamin K, Phosphorus, Magnesium and many other nutrients are essential to build the mineral content of our bones and impart strength and rigidity. Inadequate availability of these nutrients can compromise bone health and increase risk to fractures. Calcium and Vitamin D supplements especially for exercising individuals who are over the age of 45 are extremely essential.
- Ergogenic aids:Performance enhancing substances such as caffeine, carnitine, creatine, glutamine, protein supplements etc play an important role especially in athletes where the ultimate goal is winning. It is important to check the national and world anti-doping agency guidelines for the use of these substances.
With exercise increasing the need for so many nutrients mentioned above, attempts should be made to improve the stores of nutrients through healthy nutrient modifications in the diet. For a few busy individuals, following good nutrition may not always be possible. Hence reliance on nutritional supplements to support the daily diet could be a wiser option. Consulting a Sports Nutritionist and/or a Health Care Professional is a must before beginning a diet/ nutritional supplement program to understand customized nutrient and supplemental requirements.
To Well-Being, Positivity & Happiness Always?
Mihira A R Khopkar
Sports & Clinical Nutrition Consultant