What is a good nutrition plan for an athlete?

Athletes are single-minded in their focus. They want to succeed in their chosen sport no matter what. In order to achieve this goal, they obviously need to train – incredibly hard – and practice their sporting discipline until they become experts. (Just as an aside, in Malcolm Gladwell’s book, The Outliers, he says that to become an expert in anything you need to dedicate at least 10 000 hours to practicing and perfecting it.)

For the athlete to succeed, he or she not only needs to follow a strict exercise and sporting routine but they also need to follow an equally strict nutrition plan. This eating plan needs to consist of nutrient-rich, healthy food which will provide them with the energy that they need in order for them to push a little bit harder.

With so much advice out there about what to eat, it can become a little bit confusing as to what you need to choose. However, there are some staple nutrition principles that you can trust.

Protein for rebuilding muscle

Whether you are a marathon runner, an Olympic lifter or a gymnast, every time that you exercise your muscles tear microscopically. In order to repair themselves, protein is necessary as this is the main building block of muscles.

There are many ways that you can ensure that your protein intake is where it should be. A great example of protein-rich foods that are easy to prepare are hard-boiled eggs and skinless chicken breasts. If you follow a plant-based diet, legumes are an excellent source of protein.

However, if you don’t have time to prepare a protein-rich meal for after your workout, there are a number of great-tasting protein shakes out there. The most common of these is whey protein however if you’re lactose intolerant there are other varieties, such as pea protein, which are available.

Carbo-loading for energy

Especially if you’re a long-distance marathon runner, before a race you’ll need to consume a sufficient amount of carbohydrates in order to sustain you along the way.  Be warned that all carbs are not created equal so if you do need to carbo-load opt for slow-release carbs (such as low GI bread and butternut) as opposed to refined carbs such as white bread and pizza.

Don’t forget to hydrate

You lose an incredible amount of water – through perspiration – during physical exertion. For athletes, this is even more so because they are exercising more than your average office worker who spends eight hours a day behind a desk.

The consequences of dehydration can be quite severe, which means that during exercise athletes need to keep their fluid levels up. In terms of what fluids to drink, water is always the number one recommended drink. However, if electrolyte levels need to be increased athletes can also opt for sports drinks.

At the foundation of every good nutrition plan, be it for an athlete or a non-athlete – are good nutrition principles which require that you eat a diet that is full of nutrients and minerals to help your body keep on functioning as it should. There are a number of tweaks that athletes can make to their diet in order to enhance their fitness performance however, caution must be exercised in order to ensure that unhealthy territory isn’t ventured into.

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