5 nutrition "must-do’s" for athletes
We have teamed up with our powerlifting doctor, Hamed Kamali to bring you his top 5 nutrition must do's for athletes.
Cyclists daily grind is likely to look very different from a marathon runner's typical training day. The same is true of a kayaker and a skier, a swimmer and a gymnast, and so on. Each athlete’s training regimen is tailored to improve speed, strength, and reaction as it pertains to her specific sport. But, when it comes to nutrition, there are some basics that apply across the board.
We have teamed up with our doctor, Hamed Kamali to bring you his top 5 nutrition "must-do’s" for athletes. Hamed has an extensive background in health and fitness with a passion to improve the nation’s health through education and empowerment.
Let's get started!
Essential for an athlete, proteins are fundamental for growth, repair and maintenance. Protein intake for athletes can vary with strength athletes usually requiring more than endurance athletes so it's important to eat for your sport.
Listen to your body, once you’re into a training programme, monitor your progress and your recovery. Protein isn’t an efficient fuel source so its how you’re feeling outside of the gym that may give clues as to whether you need to increase your intake.
A rough guide is to eat 1.2-1.7g of protein per kg of body weight and the goal is to have a positive protein balance, that is, the rate of muscle protein synthesis is greater than the rate of muscle protein breakdown. If you are finding it difficult to recover from workouts or feeling that your progress is slow it may be worth trying to increase your intake.
Make sure to eat a variety of protein sources throughout the day to ensure you are having a complete amino acid profile. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to ingest all amino acids at every sitting although there has been some evidence to suggest that in the immediate post-work window this may be beneficial.
Protein turnover after resistance training can remain up-regulated for 24-48 hours after exercise and thus ensuring there is a sufficient pool of amino acids for this period is important for recovery.
2. Iron, Folate and B12
The demands on an athlete’s body require special attention to micronutrients. Iron requirements go up due to red blood cell turnover and increased loss in the gastrointestinal tract. Trace elements can be lost in sweat and regular endurance training is associated with an increase in B12 and folate requirements.
Incorporating fresh fruits and greens will cover a lot of ground - fruits particularly are high in water, fibre and micronutrients. However, it is worth checking food labels as various items are now fortified. The milk I use regularly meets my daily B12 requirement of 2.4mcg in 600mls.
Nutritional yeast, bread and cereals are fortified and as long as you are meeting your daily requirement - these foods could negate the need for a supplement.
Endurance athletes should aim for ferritin levels between 40-70 to prevent any impact on performance and active B12 levels of over 70 are optimal, anything less than this it would be worth considering a methylmalonic acid (MMA) test. A raised MMA suggests B12 deficiency and would warrant supplementation.
3. Healthy fats
Being calorie-dense, fats are often excluded from nutrition plans when weight loss/maintenance is desired.
However, fats are essential for athletes with low levels potentially affecting hormone production. In addition, the removal of healthy fat sources could have deleterious effects on hormones, inflammation and cardiovascular health. Excellent sources of Omega 3 include hemp seeds, flaxseed, chia and oily fish. The timing of fats is an important consideration, ideally reserved for an evening meal if you workout in the morning. Fats, slow digestion, so avoid high-fat meals around your (pre and post) workout and reserve this macronutrient for you evening meal allowing a steady trickle of amino acids through the night.
4. Hormone support
Testosterone is essential for male and female athletic performance. Supporting this hormone should be a consideration for every athlete embarking on a dietary change. Vitamin D, Zinc and Calcium are particularly important components of testosterone biosynthesis. Vitamin D in particular, is a common insufficiency/deficiency and once checked, can be easily corrected with over the counter supplementation. Whole grains, seeds and legumes are great sources of zinc and calcium - track your intake with an app such as chronometer to ensure you are getting enough or consider a supplement for this also.
Another well known anabolic supplement is creatine. can augment muscle size and performance. Increased cellular water retention and cellular ATP resynthesis can augment muscle size and performance. Also, creatine supplementation can prevent muscle catabolism which is detrimental irrespective. of your sporting discipline.
An athletes genetics, training program and environment make them as unique as their fingerprint. How your body copes with the stresses of training is individual and thus the best way to ensure your performance is optimised is to track your macronutrients, water intake, sleep and biomarkers. Keeping your essential vitamin and mineral levels within optimal range can help prevent deficiency and monitoring hormones such as testosterone and cortisol can give clues about overtraining.
If you are interested in tracking your key biomarkers to optimise your performance, check out our Sports Performance Guide.