Nutrition is one of the most important aspects of an athlete’s life. It provides the fuel we use for training and competing. Whether you’re working out to cut weight, trying to build muscle, developing speed and endurance, or you just want to improve your mood and quality of life, the food that you eat matters a lot to the success of your workout sessions and overall goal.
Even though everyone’s nutritional needs are different due to goals, current body composition, and even genetics, there are general rules that anyone can follow when eating to maximize your training. From the nutrients you must include, when you should eat, how being consistent matters, and some suggestions what to eat before and after a workout, we got you covered.
Protein is the macronutrient responsible for building and repairing muscle that you damage during your workouts. It’s important that you have enough protein so your muscles can repair themselves and grow stronger especially after an intense training session. (Protein also works as an appetite suppressant, helping with weight loss.)
How much protein should you eat in a day? It’s recommended to take .75 per kilogram of your bodyweight per day. If you train often or are a professional athlete, the recommended protein intake increases to around 1.3 - 1.8 of protein per kilogram of your bodyweight.
Aside from regularly hitting your protein count, make sure to spread out your protein consumption. This is because the body can only use a small amount of protein at one time. Eating protein after a workout is important to gain muscle and minimize muscle breakdown.
Some examples of protein-rich food are: lean cuts of meat, poultry, eggs, seafood, dairy products, legumes, and protein powders.
Carbohydrates are often wrongly maligned as being the cause of unwanted fat. However, carbs are important because they fuel workouts and training sessions. Carbohydrate also helps you maintain the effort and intensity of each workout as well as help prevent cramps.
How much carbohydrate should you consume per day? It varies. Eat more of it during training days because you’re expending more energy. You can have less carbs during your rest days. Foods such as whole grains, pasta, bread, fruits, and vegetables are great sources of carbohydrates.
The human body is made up of 60% water, which is why you need to stay hydrated to allow your body to function at peak performance during and after your workout. Try to drink at least 2 to 3 liters of water per day.
To make sure you’re sufficiently hydrated, check if you’re peeing regularly (every 3 to 4 hours when awake), start your day with a glass of water, make sure there’s a bottle of water near you and regularly take a sip during the day. You can also try to drink sparkling water or herbal teas to change things up. Finally, adjust your water intake to support increases in training intensity and competition.
You need to eat enough to supplement your training. Low energy levels are usually caused by low energy intake and high energy being expended in workouts. As a result, your performance, workout results, and overall health suffers a lot.
Relative Energy Deficiency in Sport or RED-S can cause impediments to your menstrual cycle, bone health, immune system, heart health, and gastrointestinal function. Symptoms of RED-S are frequent illness, low energy levels, stress fractures, and low sex drive. For women, it also disrupts menstrual function.
Generally, a meal should be three to four hours before and a snack should be one to two hours before training. You can also consume a pre-workout mix or coffee 30 to 60 minutes before. Ensure your snack or pre-workout has enough carbohydrates and can be digested easily.
Carbohydrates are the primary nutrient to be consumed before workouts. Add in some protein as well, especially if you have your snack 1 to 2 hours before your training session. This snack prepares the body to perform at a high level during the workout and keeps you sated.
After workouts are all about recovery and refuelling. Quality carbohydrates and protein are needed for such. Don’t forget to stock up on fluids to keep you hydrated throughout the rest of your day and replenish what you lost during your workout.
(Header photo by Mike Von on Unsplash.)
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