Healthy Eating Plan for Athletes
A healthy eating plan for athletes should include a variety of foods that supply sufficient calories, protein, carbohydrates, healthy fats, vitamins and minerals to not only support the body’s maintenance needs but also provide the nutrients required for athletic activity. How much of each nutrient an athlete needs depends to some degree on the type of exercise carried out, but, in all cases, a well-balanced diet can help optimize your athletic performance.
As an athlete engaging in strength or resistance training, you need more protein than someone focused on endurance activities, particularly if your fitness goal is to increase your muscle mass. Daily consumption of 1 gram of high-quality protein – from foods such as milk products, meat, fish and eggs – for each pound you weigh helps support muscle growth. In addition to including complex carbohydrates with your meals, eating a carbohydrate snack both before and after your workouts fuels your exercise sessions and replenishes spent glycogen stores. You also need heart-healthy fats from fish, vegetable oils and nuts for optimal cell and hormonal health, as well as the vitamins and minerals found in fruits, vegetables, dairy foods and meats to keep your muscle and bone tissue functioning well.
If you are an endurance athlete, you rely on both carbohydrates and fats for much of the energy you need to power your workouts. A modest level of dietary fat can be an especially important part of your nutrition plan when you engage in aerobic activities like running, swimming or biking. These types of exercises burn a large number of calories, and fat, which is energy dense, allows you to exercise for long periods of time while minimizing fatigue. The fats in your diet – accounting for roughly 30 percent of your total daily calories – can also help improve muscle recovery and decrease inflammation, particularly when they include healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Of course, you also need plenty of carbohydrates in your meal plan, along with protein, vitamins and minerals.
Daily protein intake for an athlete participating in sports that combine strength and endurance, such as basketball and soccer, falls between the recommendation of that for strength athletes and endurance athletes and should be in the range of 1.4 to 1.7 grams per kilogram of body weight. In these types of sports, your dietary carbohydrates and fats help fuel the endurance portion of the exercise and also assist in muscle recovery. The vitamins and minerals you take in from a wide variety of foods round out the nutrients you need to support energy production, oxygen transport, muscle contraction and nerve impulse transmission.
Protein for your healthy eating plan can come from specific combinations of plant-based foods – such as beans with rice or whole grains with nuts – as well as animal-based foods, provided they supply you with all the essential amino acids your body can’t manufacture. Complex carbohydrates and sugars from grains, vegetables and fruits are good sources of muscle energy, as are heart-healthy fats. In addition, calcium from milk, iron from lean meat, vitamin C from citrus fruits and B vitamins from whole grains all supply you with critical nutrients that can help you reach your fitness goals. Finally, avoiding foods with empty calories, such as candy and soda, allows you to satisfy your appetite with wholesome foods that provide the nutrients your body requires to maximize your athletic performance.
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