Sports nutrition is basically pretty much like it sounds - nutrition for athletes. The essence of the concept being that a sports dietician, or the athlete himself, constructs a specific athlete meal plan that will spell out precisely what the athlete's diet should consist of, based on the specific nutritional needs the pursuit of his sport presents. There can't be enough stress put on the fact that, first and foremost, it's the athlete's meal plan that sets the stage for how well his performance will be affected.
There can't be enough stress put on the fact that, first and foremost, it's the athlete's meal plan that sets the stage for how well his performance will be affected.
Depending on the sport, an athlete's nutritional needs will differ. For example, a strength athlete will need a higher protein appropriation in his meal plan; an endurance athlete will need more quality fats; while athletes who require explosive bouts of energy – such as sprinters – will need more complex carbohydrates. And, of course, for many athletic pursuits, it's not so cut and dry and a variety of factors have to be considered when you calculate what an athlete's diet should consist of.
Optimum sports nutrition insures that the body has the nutritional building blocks on board it needs to both fuel performance and aid recovery.
Generally, sports dietitians agree that the overall goal of sports nutrition is to satisfy two important areas where an athlete's nutritional needs differ from non athletes. These are distinct because one cause the other: performance and the recovery from it. Optimum sports nutrition ensures that the body has the nutritional building blocks on board it needs to both fuel performance and aid recovery.
Complex carbohydrates from natural sources such as whole grains, potatoes, yams, fruit, etc. are converted by digestion into glucose. The conversion of these particular carb sources is slow and sustained, which results in stable blood glucose levels. This not only supports the immediate performance requirements, but also replenishes glycogen stores in muscle, the liver, and the brain.
Dietary protein from fresh eggs, poultry, fish and lean meats deliver vital amino acids that aid in performance and recovery of muscle. While the body can manufacture most of the amino acids it needs, there are several which the body must have have but does not produce, or produce in sufficient amounts and must find them in the diet. Ironically, it's these very essential amino acids that are the most depleted through athletic training and competition. Clearly then, an athlete's meal plan must contain adequate complete protein choices, preferably from animal sources, to maintain the increased amino acid requirements of athletes. Vegan athletes bring a whole other element of complexity to the equation when it comes to deriving sufficient complete proteins, without suffering from a mountain of excess calories carbohydrate combining brings. But, that's an entirely separate topic for another day. For the purpose of this discussion, natural, complete, protein sources - from animals – is what will be considered in an athlete's meal plan to deliver all the amino acids the body needs for optimum athletic performance and recovery.
Finally, dietary fats, from unsaturated “good” sources are vital for energy production and metabolism maintenance, not to mention the fact that, just like we have essential amino acids, there are essential fats the body must have, but does not produce, that must be derived from dietary sources. Long considered the enemy of a healthy diet, because they were just termed “fat” and lumped in with all the bad saturated fats that are the scourge of the American diet, good fats from unsaturated sources, such as cold pressed oils, nuts, seeds, and the essential omega-3 fatty acids (DHA and EPA) from fish, are vital for energy production, tissue repair, nervous system and brain function, joint maintenance, reducing inflammation, and supporting immune function. All of which represent an elevated level of importance in an athlete's meal plan. Vegan athletes are also going to be confronted here with another reality of sports nutrition when it comes to getting enough ALA from plant sources - that must be converted into adequate quantities of DHA and EPA (the only omega-3 the body uses) to support athlete nutrition. But, again, that's another level of complexity when it comes to determining what an athlete's diet should consist of and is a topic for another discussion.
There is no argument against specialized, balanced, nutrition for athletes, and is an essential element of effective, sensible sports nutrition.
Ultimately, caloric requirements to effect maximum performance, while maintaining acceptable body composition will be regulated with the athlete's meal plan. This usually requires some trial and error and attention paid to cause and effect. But, there is no argument against specialized, balanced, nutrition for athletes, and is an essential element of effective, sensible sports nutrition.