Better performance in sports? Why special sports nutrition is helpful

More power in sports

Sports nutrition leads to an improved performance

Is special sports nutrition really necessary?

Once you start getting interested in sports nutrition, you will soon be flooded with information. There are countless discussions, opinions, wisdoms – and unfortunately also misinformation. 

But there is one important question that raises heated discussions among athletes.

Is special sports nutrition even necessary? Isn’t it enough to “simply” eat a healthy and balanced diet?

To stimulate some thought with a counter question: Does Sebastian Vettel drive his Formula 1 race car to the gas station around the corner and “simply” fill it with fuel used by the general public?

Well, the very first thing to make clear is that one does not exclude the other. The so-called sports nutrition should be both healthy and balanced, as well as adapted to the needs of the athletes.

For simplicity’s sake, let’s divide our diet for now into carbohydrates, proteins, fats and micronutrients. Each of the groups has certain tasks to perform. This works for all of us, whether we’re competitive athletes or a sports dork. So where is the difference?

Why athletes have different nutritional needs

Increased carbohydrate demand

Let’s start with carbohydrates. Carbohydrates provide us with energy. Although a sports dork – no matter how sedentary he may be in his everyday life – also needs a certain amount of energy, this energy requirement is not nearly comparable to one of an athlete.

First of all the diet of athletes differs – or should differ: The energy intake should be significantly higher! 

Anyone who releases high amounts of energy in the course of their daily training routine must supply high amounts of energy again. You don’t have to be a mathematician to carry this calculation further. 

If the energy output is higher than the energy input, a so-called energy deficit occurs. The two words ‘significant energy deficit’ and ‘(competitive) sports’ are hard to combine, aren’t they?

Increased protein requirement
Why do athletes need more protein? Counter question: Why do athletes have more muscle mass? Please don’t draw the conclusion now that it is enough to add more protein to get more muscles. 

The increased protein requirement results, among other things, from the increased need for regeneration after training as well as from increased amino acids oxidation. In contrast to the average person, athletes often undergo structural changes in their bodies as a result of frequent training stimuli. 

Furthermore, the sweat increases the loss of nitrogenous compounds.

Learn more about proteins HEREor HERE.

Increased mineral requirement

The principle is the same as for carbohydrates and proteins. Those who lose or give away more have to take up more. The formation of free radicals and the resulting additional need for micronutrients will be discussed later. 

However, the need for micronutrients is primarily increased by sweat loss. People who sweat a lot do not only lose water. Minerals such as sodium and potassium, trace elements such as zinc or iodine, but also calcium and magnesium are found in sweat. 

To meet the need you should take adapted food or drinks.

We will go into more detail on this topic HERE.

Formation of free radicals 

It also remains to consider that physical stress causes oxidative stress. Reactive oxygen radicals are formed. These are dangerous for the organism and damage numerous cell structures. 

The organism confronts the oxygen radicals with antioxidants for protection. It is therefore helpful to supply antioxidants in order to support the body, especially after strenuous sessions. Antioxidants are found primarily in fruits and vegetables.

Better performance with special sports nutrition – this is how it works!

A popular mistake made by many (amateur) athletes is to completely empty their glycogen stores each time they train and then refill them afterwards with a so-called reward meal. However, this method is not very effective. It is much better to supply energy before, during and after training and thus not to let the glycogen stores run completely empty.

Adjust your energy intake to the physical load

If the duration of physical exercise is less than 60 minutes, then the supply of carbohydrates during training is generally not necessary. Depending on the sport, these relatively short sessions are often of high intensity, so it is particularly important to supply carbohydrates before training. This is how you get through the session full of energy.

The ideal time that shoul pass between eating and a strenuous workout, needs to be determined by each athlete individually (especially before a competition, it is extremely important to know!). 

In general, the recommendation is to eat about 2-3 hours before the physical activity. Carbohydrates which are easy to digest should be used. For breakfast, porridge cooked with water is a good example.

Nourish yourself during a workout if the physical load exceeds an hour.

For training loads which last longer than an hour, it is important to also supply energy during the workout. The simple reason is the glycogen stores are increasingly emptied. If you don’t “refuel” now, you simply miss the necessary power for an effective workout.

In general, carbohydrate amounts of 30-40g per hour can be sufficient for so-called “train-low” sessions, i.e. less strenuous exertion with, for example, pre-empty glycogen stores. In contrast, quantities of 60-90g carbohydrates per hour are required for particularly strenuous workloads.

The energy supply here can not be guaranteed by “normal” meals. Breaks should also be taken for it: Every athlete knows what it’s like to train with a “full stomach”. The body is too busy digesting solid food whilst performing.

The simple solution is special sports nutrition in form of e.g. drink powders, which provide the necessary energy effectively and quickly.

Likewise, the loss of minerals can be compensated for immediately with it. The formation of reactive oxygen radicals can also be counteracted by natural sports nutrition with real fruits, such as berries.

Top trainers Dan Lorang and Robert Gorgos tell you more about the right food during training HERE.

Avoid a negative spiral after training

Proper care is also important after training! This helps minimize the risk of developing a vicious circle. Which kind of vicious circle? Well, not supplying sports-appropriate nutrition after a workout can lead to impaired recovery. 

This can result in the next training stimulus being set without being sufficiently regenerated. This pattern is then perpetuated and, training stimulus by training stimulus, lowers the effectiveness of the training. This results in a linear decrease of the performance level and finally, if continued for a longer period of time, the danger of overtraining.

After physical activity an important time window of about 1 hour opens – the so-called “open window”. 

In addition to the already mentioned intake of carbohydrates, the intake of sufficient protein is now also important. Here, care should be taken to use the highest quality protein possible. 

Furthermore, the right combination of carbohydrates and proteins (0.8g/kg carbohydrates/h + 0.2-0.4g/kg protein/h) is important. This way, the stressed muscle groups are supported during regeneration, muscle injuries are prevented and the glycogen stores are filled more quickly.

You can find more tips for optimal regeneration HERE.

Use of special supplements

Every now and then, a new supplement or miracle diet comes to light – and (gullible) athletes around the world watch out. You quickly get the feeling you have to try out the infinite number of supplements and superfoods in order not to leave any possible performance-enhancing factor unnoticed. 

From caffeine to creatine to β-alanine and omega-3, it all sounds so incredibly tempting. But, in the words of Anton Bruckner, “who wants to build high towers must linger long on the foundations.” 

The foundation is proven to be a natural, high-carbohydrate diet that includes those basics we’ve already described – and which we’ll summarize again below.

We are not saying that certain specific supplements can’t be useful (especially since each athlete also has specific needs and individual requirements). But in this context, we would at least like to point out that artificial supplements, for example, can also negatively affect important adaptation processes for performance enhancement. Therefore, it is enormously important to inform yourself about certain supplements.

Our conclusion on the use of sports nutrition

Our advice to you is to focus on the most important basics that have been proven to have a big impact on allowing greater performance in sports. Important points that have already proven themselves over a long period of time – and which you can cover most sensibly with good sports nutrition:

  • An optimal carbohydrate supply around the workout
  • Sufficient supply of proteins
  • Supply of the body with antioxidants
  • Avoiding micronutrient undersupply
  • Optimization of the regeneration process through the use of the “open window

Sources
[1] C. M. Kerksick et al., “ISSN exercise & sports nutrition review update: Research & recommendations,” J. Int. Soc. Sports Nutr., vol. 15, no. 1, pp. 1-57, 2018, doi: 10.1186/s12970-018-0242-y.
[2] D. T. Thomas, K. A. Erdman, and L. M. Burke, “Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Dietitians of Canada, and the American College of Sports Medicine: Nutrition and Athletic Performance,” J. Acad. Nutr. Diet., vol. 116, no. 3, pp. 501-528, 2016, doi: 10.1016/j.jand.2015.12.006.

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