How to Get Fit With Sports Nutrition

Eat for the Body You Want

Getting fit and achieving the body you want is possible with sports nutrition. Sports nutrition is simply a way of saying you’re eating for goals. Athletes participate in sports requiring specific nutrition requirements to help them compete at optimal levels. This could mean improving athletic performance, gaining lean mass, reducing body fat to lose weight. What does this mean for you? Sports nutrition is a way of eating for the body you want. 

If you’re physically active, holding onto fat stores, and just not feeling enough energy to sustain your workouts, applying proper nutrition may be all that’s required to turn it around. Sports nutrition is shown to be a successful approach for athletes and active adults. It’s really the same as applying healthy eating strategies already well-known to many of us. 

The important thing is to apply sports nutrition methods consistently to achieve your goals. There will be some differences in a diet for bodybuilders compared to long distance runners, but the food selections will be fairly similar overall. We tend to make eating healthy complicated and stressful when we should be enjoying simple and effective nutrition. The following tips will help you incorporate sports nutrition and eat for the body we want.

Keeping a Food Journal

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One of the best accountability tools to stay on sports nutrition track is keeping a food journal. It may feel like a burden to write down every morsel and drink consumed, but over time it will become your friend. During weeks when food is off track, it forces us to take responsibility for poor eating habits. Learning from our documentation is the point of the journal. Once healthy eating habits are adopted, we typically don’t need the journal, especially as we become more sports nutrition savvy. 

Food journals can be simplistic, recording each healthy meal several times per day, or as complex as counting calories, grams, and separating macronutrient food groups. Whatever journal method you elect to try, it should incorporate well with your lifestyle, and help motivate you to eat right to reach your goals. 

Plan and Prep Your Meals

Learning how to plan and prep healthy meals is one of the most important strategies athletes have used to achieve successful results. This popular nutrition method promotes eating right during the week and fuels our body for workouts. Proper nutrition also stimulates the body to burn fat more efficiently for improved body composition. 

This will mean setting aside time to buy, cook, and separate out healthy meals. Unfortunately, when life is busy, many of us opt for quick and easy processed food instead of real quality food prepared at home. According to the American Council on Exercise, having a plan is essential to successful meal prepping. In order to achieve the body you want, this will be one of the most important strategies to implement.

The smartest meal prep strategy is to set aside one day during the week to plan meals, grocery shop, and then prep veggies, meat, and grains to cook in bulk. Divide meals into single serving containers to grab as needed.

When you are in control of what you eat, you are in control of your fitness results. The following are popular fitness foods included in weekly meal prepping:

Using Nutrient Timing

Athletes are known to eat several times per day to achieve and maintain optimal fitness for their sport. This is also called nutrient timing. Studies indicate spacing out small meals throughout the day may increase metabolism, stimulate muscle protein synthesis (growth), and promote fat loss. It’s also shown to maintain blood glucose (sugar) levels, increase energy, and keep us feeling satisfied during the day.

It’s common for natural bodybuilders and fitness enthusiasts to use nutrient timing as a way to help create a lean, athletic look. According to the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, athletic performance improves when carbohydrates and proteins are consumed at the right times before and after workouts. The following example is a typical day of nutrient timing (3-hour spacing) for athletes:

  • 6 a.m.: 1 protein source + 1 carbohydrate + 1 fat
  • 9 a.m.: protein snack + 1 fruit or vegetable
  • Noon: 1 protein source + 1 carbohydrate 
  • 3 p.m.: protein snack
  • 7 p.m.: 1 protein source + 1 carbohydrate + 1 fat

Although many benefits are indicated with nutrient timing, applying this method is a personal choice. Some athletes and active adults opt to fuel with three larger meals per day common for consuming breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Eat Like an Athlete

Many of us think improving our fitness and achieving an athletic look means going on a diet. This is what we have come to believe through successful marketing. The truth is many of these diets restrict too many calories, are nutrient deficient, and may cause more harm than good. The body is an efficient machine and needs energy for optimal health and fitness. 

Depriving the body of important nutrients has been shown to decrease our ability to lose fat, maintain muscle, and has also been linked to poor performance and lowered metabolism. Eating like an athlete means eating right, not eating less, to achieve the body we want. When you choose to eat a wide variety of nutrient-dense foods to support an active lifestyle is when you experience great results. 

According to the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, in order to preserve muscle, lose fat and maintain athletic performance small caloric deficits work best. In other words, extreme caloric restrictive diets that eliminate important nutrients are not the best way to accomplish fitness goals.

The following sample meal plans incorporate excellent sports nutrition and enable athletes to look good while performing at their best:
Sample daily meal plan (approx. 1800 calories) for an active female who is trying to build lean body mass and lose weight may include:

  • Meal 1 – 1 whole egg and 4 egg whites scrambled, topped with salsa, and 1 cup fruit
  • Meal 2 – 4 tablespoons hummus with 1 cup baby carrots, or celery sticks
  • Meal 3 – Large leafy green salad with grilled chicken (6 oz.), ½ cup cooked beans, 2 cups chopped mixed vegetables, and salsa for dressing
  • Meal 4 – ½ cup plain yogurt topped with ½ cup blueberries
  • Meal 5 – Grilled salmon (8 oz.) with lemon, ½ cup brown rice, and 2 cups cooked broccoli florets

Sample daily meal plan (approx. 2500 calories) for an active male trying to build lean muscle while losing weight may include:

  • Meal 1 – 3 whole eggs scrambled, 1 ½ cups plain yogurt with ½ cup blueberries, and 1/3 cup granola
  • Meal 2 – Blended protein shake (2 scoops protein powder, ¾ cup berries, ¼ cup coconut milk, 1 tbsp. flax seeds, water)
  • Meal 3 – Lean beef (8 oz.) burger wrapped in lettuce topped with tomato, onion, mustard garnish, 3 cups green vegetables
  • Meal 4 – Blended protein shake (as above)
  • Meal 5 – Grilled chicken (6 oz.), ½ cup quinoa salad, and 1 cup broccoli

Eat for Muscle Growth

According to research, nutrition contributes the largest role in muscle development. Unfortunately, many of us show up for our workout and forget eating right is part of the training process. Active adults often make diet mistakes following incorrect nutrition information or fad food plans.

Building muscle is hard work and excellent sports nutrition is essential to this process. Eating plans will differ per person and according to lifestyle and activity level. There is never a one-size fit all bodybuilding or athletic diet. Bodybuilders and other athletes should tailor their food intake depending on the energy demands of their sports, according to a position paper published in The Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. This includes a wide variety of balanced macronutrients (protein, carbs, and fats) uniquely designed for each person. 

Consider Water an Essential Nutrient

Water is said to be the most important nutrient in sports nutrition. Regular exercise causes us to sweat and increases our water intake requirements. Performing at our athletic best and achieving the body we want will require drinking plenty of water

Water makes up over half of the human body, regulates our temperature, maintains digestion, and protects our organs. It also plays a large role in muscle function, transporting nutrients, and removing toxins from our body. We simply couldn’t survive without water and physical activity requires we drink even more. According to the American Council on Exercise, we can lose up to one quart of water during a one-hour exercise session, depending on intensity, and environmental conditions. 

Staying hydrated is essential for optimal body function and athletic performance. Research has provided varied recommendations for water intake based on many factors including age, health status, activity level, and where you live.

Generally, you should drink enough water so that you don’t feel thirsty. You can also check the color of your urine. If it is light yellow, you are probably well hydrated. During workouts, don't rely on thirst for hydration.

It’s also important to drink water before, during, and after exercise.

Supplements Can Help

Many athletes and active adults are using supplements to enhance athletic performance, stimulate muscle growth and recovery, and increase fat loss. Research indicates some supplements are better than others and may provide an edge up on your sports nutrition program. However, supplements are not regulated by the FDA and lack of quality control could mean a poor quality and ineffective product. Look for NSF, USP, Consumers Lab, or UL third party seals of verification of quality. If you are still unsure, consult with a registered dietitian nutritionist.

Choosing to take supplements is a personal choice. Clinical studies are ongoing examining the role of supplements and it’s recommended to review findings to decide if they’re right for you. It’s also advisable to consult with your doctor before taking supplements. 

A Word From Verywell

Sports nutrition is another way to describe eating to meet your athletic performance goals and achieve the body you want. Athletes and active adults have incorporated sports nutrition to stimulate fat loss, enhance athletic performance, and improve aesthetics. Most of our daily nutrient requirements can be met eating a wide variety of nutrient-dense foods to support the physical demands of our workouts and lifestyle. Using sports nutrition incorporates these healthy foods, allows us to achieve the body we want, and works best when combined with regular exercise. 

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