Many people/athletes who are trying to enhance their fitness levels and do extra workouts often leave out the important aspect of fitness – nutrition. They are unable to get serious about taking a balanced diet that can give them an extra edge. It’s very important to understand that giving right foods at the right time is vital to keep your body performing at its best. Think of what you eat as the fuel that gives your body energy, the nutrients that keep your body tuned to run in high gear, and the fluids that help your engine run without overheating. To keep your body working for optimum performance there are four lines of defence.
Replacing fluids lost is the first line of defence. Drink 2-3 cups [16–24 ounces] of fluids for every pound you lose during workouts in the form of sweat. Always remember that we begin to get dehydrated and our performance drops-off with just as little as a two per cent water loss. Besides water, sweat also contains electrolytes like sodium and potassium. Potassium is involved in many vital processes such as muscle contraction, heart function, and maintaining fluid balance. Sodium, which is a component of salt, is involved in maintenance of fluid balance.
It is easy to replenish electrolytes with post-exercise foods. Sodium is found in many foods therefore replacing salt loss is no major concern. Some popular energy drinks also provide enough amount of sodium to avoid dehydration symptoms like muscle cramps, loss of concentration and irritability. For potassium, you can have foods like potatoes, yogurt, orange juice, bananas, pineapple juice and raisins after execise. You can also go for various sports drinks which are formulated with adequate amount of electrolytes. But avoid alcohol and caffeine, as they can cause your body to lose more water.
Exercising can be hard on your body cells, so it is important to have adequate amount of anti-oxidants. Eating foods with plenty of anti-oxidants may help to decrease muscle soreness, stay healthy for all season competitions and increase your efficiency and resistance power. Common anti-oxidants include vitamin A, C, E, and selenium. You should have at least 5-6 serving of anti-oxidant-rich fruits and vegetables. One of the best ways to have concentrated form of these phytonutrients is juicing. Start your morning with a glass of homemade juice of spinach, carrot, grapefruit and orange. You may also go for multivitamin/mineral supplements as it will be like an extra boost towards your optimum performance. Supplements will provide you with 100 per cent recommended nutrients according to your age and gender.
Carbohydrates are stored in muscles in the form of glycogen. During exercise, glycogen stores are depleted and need to be replenished. Actually, it is high carbohydrate foods that are digested the easiest and fastest. But the type of carbohydrates you eat is largely dependent on how much time you have prior to the exercise or competition. Complex carbohydrates like potatoes, pasta and bread may take longer time to digest [up to three hours], while sports drinks contain simple sugars which are easily digested, get absorbed into bloodstream and are available as fuel quickly. Most sports drinks contain at least 8–10 per cent carbohydrate – a level that can be easily absorbed in the bloodstream. It also contains electrolytes like sodium and potassium. The quick energy in a sports drink will fuel your brain and muscles. This energy can help you think clearly and make better decisions on the field, which translates into improved performance. Researchers have found that athletes who are involved with sports like soccer, basketball, football and tennis are able to concentrate better if they drank a sports drink. You can also try a homemade drink as a quick energiser for workouts: Mix 1 cup water + 1 cup orange juice and a pinch of salt.
To re-energise muscles after a workout, you should also focus on proteins in addition to fluids and carbohydrates. Try to eat or drink a healthy snack within 30 minutes after your workout and again within two hours. Even though carbohydrates is the key to supply energy to the muscles, studies have shown that addition of protein will help your body store even more energy and recover better than carbohydrate alone. This can easily be accomplished by adding milk to cereal, paneer to toast, or yogurt to fruit. If you prefer not to eat solids soon after exercise, try a recovery sports drink that provides protein and carbohydrates. But avoid taking too much protein or fat before exercise as they both take longer time to digest and move in the small intestine [up to 6–7 hrs]. In fact, it may also contribute to gastro-intestinal cramping.
In addition to the above lines of defence, I would also like to mention energy bars – the latest convenient food supplement. You will get a wide variety of energy bars to choose from the market today, so you can choose the one you really like in taste and that fits your exercise and diet plan. Energy bars may contain simple and complex carbohydrates, protein, fat, vitamins, minerals and anti-oxidants. Drink an additional two cups of fluid when you eat an energy bar to help digestion. Don’t have it in excess, as occasionally they may cause an upset stomach during exercise as they are highly supplemented with additional vitamins and minerals. In addition, they add extra calories to your daily intake. So be sure of working out well enough and using up the extra calories.
Always consult a professional [sports nutritionist/sports doctor] for optimum results. After all the food we eat and the beverages we consume are our body’s energy source, which gives us the “get up and go” signal. This fuel must be correct mix to supply the body with the essential nutrients to function properly. As without it, athletic performance will go down.