Healthy diet for athletes - GulfToday

Healthy diet for athletes

Abeer Majed Al Kusayer

Clinical Nutrition and Dietetics, Al Qassimi Hospital – Ministry of Health and Prevention

Clinical Nutrition and Dietetics, Al Qassimi Hospital – Ministry of Health and Prevention

Healthy diet

Picture used for illustrative purposes.

Nutrition for athletes is not only for professional players, but for everyone who exercises or any engages in sports regularly. If you are an athlete, balanced nutrition will support your training and athletic performance and will improve your fitness and health in general. Good food makes your body more adaptable to exercise and makes you recover quickly after exercise and achieve your highest levels of athletic performance.

Exercising for a long time improves overall fitness, which includes heart health, blood pressure, blood flow, oxygen delivery to cells, respiratory health, hormones, immune system, muscle and bone, and metabolism (the conversion of food into energy in our bodies).

The body needs fuel to help it do exercise, and this fuel is food that contains carbohydrates, protein, fats, vitamins and minerals in addition to fluids.

Benefits of exercise:
1. Prevention of heart disease.
2. Adjusts blood pressure and the level of sugar in the body.
3. Burns fat and build muscle mass.
4. Maintain physical fitness and strengthen the back muscles.
5. Cancer prevention, especially colon cancer.
6. Improves breathing.
7. Treats insomnia.
8. Reduces tension, nervousness and depression.
9. The ability to perform daily activities better and with less fatigue.

New athletes can be confused when deciding the appropriate meal, whether before or after exercise. It is worth noting that the meals before exercise must be light so that the athlete does not feel heavy and exhausted during the exercises, such as fruits or a simple sandwich. If they eat fatty meals, they must wait at least four hours before exercising. After exercising, the body consumes most of the calories.

We must first realise that proper healthy eating (after exercise) must contain the following:
1. Carbohydrates “to produce energy and nourish muscles.”
2. Minerals such as sodium and potassium
3. Protein “to produce muscle fibres and replace damaged ones.”
4. Fluids from water and natural juices “to replace the fluid lost by the athlete through sweat.

It is preferable for the athlete to eat “immediately” after the exercise a very light meal. It should contain fast-digesting proteins such as chicken, or fat-free turkey, or a cocktail with milk or a fruit such as a banana. The body immediately after exercise begins to rebuild damaged muscles within 45 minutes. After an hour and a half to two hours, it is advisable to start eating carbohydrates or “starches” to work on resupplying the body with energy after losing large calories during exercise, by eating bread, rice, cornflakes, etc.

Eating before exercise:
Eat a large meal 3-4 hours before exercise and close to the time of exercise the food should be:
- High in carbohydrates and calories for energy supply.
- Contains medium amounts of protein to relieve muscle pain and rebuild muscle tissue.
- Low in fat and fibre for better digestion.

Examples of a meal 3-4 hours before a workout:
- Honey sandwich + peanut butter + juice
- Milkshake (milk + fruits) + breakfast cereal with dried fruits and nuts
- Oatmeal cereal with nuts + skimmed milk + bananas
- Low-fat feta cheese + jam + cake or bread + grapes
- Burger sandwich (red meat without fat) with lettuce and tomatoes + salad plate + custard or ice cream with fruits
- Turkey sandwich + 1 fruit + sports drinks
- Low fat tuna sandwich + fruit salad plate + skimmed milk

Examples of a snack 30-60 minutes before exercise:
- Sports foods such as jelly, chocolate, or chewable cereals.
- Fruit such as banana, dates or jam sandwich.

Eating during exercise:
Some types of sports continue for hours with continuous movement, such as racing and football. The body needs to supply energy during rest and needs to replace fluids and minerals that have been lost. The amount of fluids must be appropriate to compensate for the amounts lost with perspiration and to avoid dehydration that may lead to fatigue and reduce the level of performance. You should pay attention not to eat large amounts of carbohydrates because it may cause cramps in the intestines.

- Sports drinks that contain carbohydrates and salts.
- Snack foods high in easily digestible carbohydrates such as bananas, jam sandwiches, honey or sports foods such as jelly, chewable cereal and chocolate.

Eating after exercise (to recover energy):
-Energy or muscle fuel are the carbohydrates you used during your workout.
-Minerals that are lost during exercise, such as sodium and potassium.
-Protein is necessary for building muscle, repairing damaged tissue and building new tissue.

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