Sports nutrition: Fuel your performance

Everyday we are made aware of the need for proper preparation to maximize performance in sport, and this no longer applies only to the elite. Even those who are into recreational sports need to be aware of their nutritional needs.

The nutritional requirement of sports persons is different from that of normal people.

In most cases, nutrition of a sports person depends upon the type of sports he is involved in. Each sport uses different parts of body and requires different levels of physical fitness and energy requirement. Therefore, sports nutrition is a science which requires proper study based on scientific collection of data.

Muscle strength and power are essential determinants of performance in short maximal exercise requiring high muscle force production, such as weight lifting, throwing and jumping, or sprinting. A majority of the athletes involved in strength and power sports ingest nutritional supplements with the express purpose of enhancing muscle strength.

The energy for exercise comes mainly from carbohydrates stored in muscle as glycogen. A diet high in carbohydrates is essential, with as much as 60-65 per cent of the calories supplied through this source. In sports such as boxing or gymnastics where weight is to be kept under strict control, the need to balance calories taken and consumed is essential.

Shortage of carbohydrates is a major contributor to fatigue. Fatigue may lead to risk of injury that can be prevented by efficient nutrition.

Misconceptions regarding nutrition:

· Most sportsmen think they should not drink fluids during competition, a practice which could have serious physical consequences such as dehydration and nervous system dysfunction.
· A large number of sportsmen believe that food cannot provide enough nutrients and that supplements are necessary for good health.
· Excessive intake of highly concentrated sugars, such as candy and soft drinks in a short period of time can result in cramps and bloating.
· Some sportsmen believe that protein is the primary source of muscular energy for sports. While protein is necessary for muscle growth and repair, it is not a primary source of energy. It is more efficient for the body to get energy from carbohydrates, but if carbohydrate intake is low, then the body must use protein.


A good food plan for young sportsmen is a well-balanced, nutrient-dense diet. This plan will provide adequate amounts of most nutrients. Sportsmen need to obtain at least 60 percent of their total calories from a variety of complex carbohydrates such as grain products, fruits, and vegetables. These carbohydrates provide energy plus vitamins, minerals, and fiber to keep all systems functioning at peak efficiency.

Meat and dairy products are also very important, but in smaller amounts. They are needed especially for protein and minerals. Water and liquids such as juices are vital for proper hydration, a necessary component of athletic excellence. Foods to avoid are ones full of calories with no other nutrients.

Even mild dehydration – 1% of body – which would represent approximately .75 to 1 liter of water (1% of 75 Kg = 750 ml.) can create a reduction in muscle performance and start to show dehydration symptoms.

If the dehydration is 2 – 3 %, serious performance inhibition occurs. Depending upon the sports and the environmental conditions 4 – 6 liters of fluid per day should be taken. And around 300 – 500 ml during workouts can be taken.

Coaches can help enhance the performances of their sportsmen by promoting good nutrition. Because sportsmen seek and follow their advice, coaches should find ways to supply useful information.

They can schedule a lesson on eating, perhaps calling in a guest expert such as a sports nutritionist. The nutritional support of wise food choices will make it possible for sportsmen to perform to the best of their abilities.

The author is a Sports Performance Enhancement Specialist

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Image: Flickr/creativecommons Malte S