Nutrition to Boost Athletic Performance
A highly nutritious diet can increase physical performance and recovery from exercise. You don’t need to be a professional athlete competing for high stakes to benefit. Good nutrition can increase your endurance and give you the strength to push through barriers to beat your own benchmarks. Nutrition also speeds recovery after exercise, including recovery from an exercise-induced injury. A healthy body will be stronger and less prone to injuries, cramps and other ailments that interfere with exercise routines.
Maintaining a nutrient-rich diet is essential to optimal physical performance. In addition to the quality of the nutrients, athletes engaging in high physical activity must pay careful attention to the timing of certain nutrients. For example, during extended periods of activity, eating both carbohydrates and protein is essential for maintaining body weight, glycogen levels and to supplying sufficient protein to form and heal damaged tissue.
It’s worth highlighting the role of vitamin D in supporting vital bodily functions. Vitamin D supports healthy bones because vitamin D is needed to absorb calcium. Calcium is a core element in growing and repairing bones, regulating calcium in the blood, supporting the working of muscles, nerve function and blood coagulation. Low levels of vitamin D or calcium may lower the density of the bones and increases susceptibility to fractures. Good sources of calcium are milk, yogurt, cheese and green leafy vegetables.
Vitamin D also supports the nervous system and functioning of muscles. The best source of vitamin D is sunlight. However, good food sources are fish (sardines, mackerel, salmon), eggs, butter, beef liver, cheese and omega-3 oil. Vitamin D is a fat-soluble substance so if you rely on supplements as your primary source make sure you take omega-3 fish oil, extra virgin olive oil or coconut oil at the same time.
It must be no accident that a triathlon race is called the “Iron Man”. Iron, which the body uses to form hemoglobin in the blood, maintains oxygen levels in the blood and muscles during exercise. With too little hemoglobin, the athlete may suffer lower performance, a weaker immune system, lower resistance to disease, tiredness, short-temper and an accelerated heart rate. Good food sources of iron are red meat, oats, nuts, green leafy vegetables and legumes.
Sufficient protein in the body can help to prevent and repair muscle damage from exercise stress. Post-exercise protein supplementation in a US Marine unit showed a reduction of medical visits by up to 33%, a reduction of bacterial infection by up to 28%, a reduction in reported muscle and joint pain by up to 37% and a reduction in heat exhaustion as high as 83%. Protein taken after exercise increases muscle protein levels, reduces muscle soreness, and improves tissue hydration in extended training exercises. Good sources of proteins are fish, red meat, eggs, chicken, yogurt, cheese and legumes.
In addition to nutrients and protein, athletes should drink enough fluid during and after exercise to stabilize the loss of fluids. Sports beverages consumed during exercise help to maintain blood glucose levels and reduce the risk of dehydration and hyponatremia. A good balanced diet regimen including a variety of nutrient-rich foods should provide sufficient nutrients to support a vigorous exercise regimen.