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​Be the best you can beby eating right!

Sports. Some pick it up as a hobby while others pursue it as their life goal, constantly challenging themselves to beat the records set by themselves or others. When performance is dependent on speed, power, accuracy and endurance, paying attention to what you eat can give you that extra advantage.
 
Different sports require different skills. Therefore, your nutrition needs will vary based on your choice of sport and your training plan. While the nutrition recommendations for each sport need to be fine-tuned with your coach or sports nutritionist, here are some simple tips which may help you to power up your performance.
 

1. Hydrate well

 A well-hydrated body performs at peak efficiency. Dehydration and over-hydration will have a negative impact on sport performance and health. A good way to ensure that you have consumed enough fluid is to drink according to your sweat rate. 

Here s how to work out your sweat rate : Weigh yourself before and one hour after training. The difference in weight reflects the water lost during the session. In your next training session, drink enough to replace the water you will lose as sweat. 
Divide the quantity equally through each half hour of the training or workout session. If you need to pass urine once every two to four hours throughout the day and the colour of the urine is pale yellow or colourless, you are probably well-hydrated.
 
Water is the best rehydration fluid and works well for sessions of less than 60 minutes. For endurance sports lasting more than an hour, and perhaps high-intensity activities, you might do better with a sports drink. Besides hydrating your body, these specially formulated beverages also provide the carbohydrates needed to fuel the mind and working muscles. In addition, they provide small amounts of sodium (salt) to enhance water absorption and retention.
 

2. Fuel with carbs

 Carbohydrates or carbs are the body's primary energy source and the main fuel for working muscles. Carbohydrates get broken down during digestion into glucose, which can be used immediately for energy. The rest is stored as glycogen in the muscle and liver, or it is converted to fat if excess calories are consumed. Glycogen is the body's storage form of carbohydrate. The more muscle glycogen stored means the more fuel you have to power your activity.
 
Both complex carbs (starch) and simple carbs (sugars) supply energy and replenish muscle glycogen. Examples of simple carbs include table sugar, honey and the natural sugars found in milk and fruits. Examples of starches are grains and grain products (e.g. rice, noodles, bread, oats, chappati and biscuits), starchy vegetables (e.g. potato and yam), beans and lentils.

Carbs foundation

The bulk of your carbs should come from starches as well as a variety of fruit and vegetables. Besides carbs, these food also provide vitamins, minerals, fibre and beneficial plant substances known as phytochemicals.

 

​Occasional carbs

Food and beverages high in added sugars (e.g. candies and sweetened drinks) should generally be minimised in the diet as they tend to contain little nutritional value. Nonetheless, sugars can be useful in sports nutrition, especially to fuel endurance activities such as marathons. After a long bout of training, sugary drinks and food can also help athletes reload their muscles with glycogen in preparation for the next session.

Carbohydrate loading

Training muscles to store glycogen is useful for endurance athletes as it helps fuel activities of long duration effectively. To load muscles with glycogen, you have to eat a carbohydrate-rich diet throughout your training session. A few days before an endurance event, you should taper down your exercise to allow the muscles to rest and stock up on glycogen. A competitive athlete should work with an accredited sports dietitian or nutritionist to develop a carbohydrate-loading plan for their sporting programme.
 

3. Get enough protein

 
The protein requirement of professional athletes is higher than that of a person who exercises occasionally for fitness. Normal healthy individuals need about 0.8g of protein per kg of body weight. Competitive athletes may need between 1.0 to 1.6g of protein per kg body weight to support muscle development and repair. Growing individuals, body builders and marathoners need to aim for the higher end of the recommended range. Remember that consuming extra protein in itself does not build more muscles. You need to train regularly to build muscle strength and size.
 
Food sources which are high in protein include fish, lean meat, skinless poultry, eggs, milk, yoghurt, cheese, beans, bean products (e.g. tofu) and lentils. Protein-rich food supply other nutrients too, such as iron and zinc.
 

4. Plan and execute your nutrition plan

 
What you choose to eat or drink before, during and after a competition or training session can have direct impact on your performance.


Before activity 

Pre-exercise food can give you the edge, fuelling your endurance. Eating preferences and ability vary with individuals, so you have to discover the plan that works for you before deciding what to consume, when to have it and how much. In general, choose a pre-event meal or snack that is high in carbs, and finish eating one to four hours before your training session or competition. Make sure to also drink enough fluids to fully hydrate your body.

​During activity

If your activity lasts longer than an hour, you need to refuel mid-way. Endurance athletes need to pay attention to staying hydrated and getting a constant source of energy. Useful products include sports drinks and energy bars. Serious athletes need to plan and prepare for food or fuel stops to ensure that they can perform effectively.

​After activity

Replacing fluid loss is crucial after exercise. You should also refuel your muscles with carbs. For muscle glycogen recovery, the sooner you eat, the better. Recovering physically and mentally from your activity will help to build your endurance for the next event.
 

5. Practice, practice, practice

 
With sports nutrition, one fundamental rule is that you should not change your diet just before the competition. Any dietary manipulation you want to test including the amount of fluids to drink and carbs to eat must be done during the training period. Sudden dietary changes may affect your performance and waste your weeks and months of careful preparation. When you get into the competition, make sure you are implementing tried and successful eating strategies to power your winning performance.
 

A note about supplements​

As the difference between winning and losing in high level sporting competitions is usually just a fraction of a second or a few millimetres, many athletes are tempted to try dietary or hormonal supplements for that additional performance boost. If you are thinking of consuming a particular supplement, it is best to check with your sports doctor or dietitian to ensure that your supplement of choice is legal and effective. It is important to remember that supplements are no substitute for proper training and a nourishing diet.
 

So Remember...

           
  • Learn about effective nutrition for your sport of choice from an accredited sports dietitian or sports nutritionist.
  • Consume carbohydates to fuel your activity and include sufficient fluids to hydrate your body.
  • Experiment during training to find out what works best for you. Avoid sudden dietary changes just before a competition.