Marley Hall is a writer and fact checker who is certified in clinical and translational research. Her work has been published in medical journals in the field of surgery, and she has received numerous awards for publication in education.
Sports nutrition is the study and practice of diet and nutrition with regard to improving athletic performance. While the term “athlete” embraces a wide variety of sports professionals, those who compete in weight training, runners, and endurance sports are all considered athletes as well, and can benefit from uniquely-tailored nutrition.
Different from basic nutrition, medical nutrition therapy, and nutrition geared toward weight loss, sports nutrition is carefully planned to enhance performance. A registered dietitian who specializes in sport nutrition, or CSSD (Board Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics), can plan not only adequate nutrition and hydration, but also help plan the timing of these elements to help athletes perform at their peak.
The benefits of sports nutrition are multifaceted and include: improved performance, reduced recovery time, reduced muscle soreness, improved sleep quality, reduced injury risk, and decreased stress levels. In short, a sports nutrition protocol can help an athlete perform their best.
Nutrition is important in sports as it impacts performance. Proper nutrition can also enhance recovery and sleep, two factors that closely impact performance. Timing of meals is more important for athletes than the general population—consuming food too close to activity can hinder performance, and it is important to consume the proper combination of foods so as not to cause digestion issues.
An individualized nutrition plan can aid athletes in achieving specific goals while also adhering to their food preferences. Sports nutrition helps to assess hydration status and prevent and treat injury.
The diet of athletes varies from sport to sport. While the proper balance of macronutrients (protein, carbohydrate, and fat), and their timing, is crucial, athletes also benefit from diets rich in antioxidants to reduce oxidative stress on the body and to aid in repair. Other nutrients, such as iron, vitamin D, and electrolytes are key in an athlete's diet.
A registered dietitian who specializes in sports nutrition, or a qualified professional who has earned their CSSD, can plan adequate nutrition and hydration, while educating on the timing of these elements for peak performance.
Sports nutrition differs from general nutrition in that it is performance-specific and therefore, at times, time-specific. Most athletes benefit from more carbohydrates than the general population, and have higher hydration needs.
Athletes will likely want to avoid foods that may negatively impact performance but can generally enjoy all foods within a balanced plan that meets their individual needs. For example, athletes may choose to avoid high fatty foods, such as fried foods, which take longer to digest and may negatively impact performance. Fiber intake should also be planned strategically to avoid digestive issues before or during performance. The types of foods that should be limited will be athlete and sports-specific.
Supplements are nutritional products, usually taken orally, that are an addition to the diet. The supplemental needs of athletes may differ from those of the general population.
Vitamins are nutrients or substances that our bodies need to develop and function normally. While most people can consume adequate vitamins from a varied diet, some athletes may require supplemental vitamins.
Diet describes what you choose to eat. While sometimes viewed as a proverbial four letter word, diet does not have to be equated with restriction or elimination. Intake varies for each individual, but a diet is just that—the pattern of the foods a person consumes.
Protein, one of the three macronutrients, is made up of organic nitrogenous compounds composed of one or more chains of amino acids. Proteins are an essential component for building muscle.
Fuel is another word for 'food used for performance.' Through this lens, the body can be compared to a car, or as an intricate machine, that needs fuel—or nutrients—to operate. Nutrients fuel all of the body’s functions, and this is especially true for athletic performance.
Carbohydrates, one of the three macronutrients, are organic compounds consisting of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen that are built in small, repeating units. Dietary carbohydrates are the brain and body’s preferred source of fuel.
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Kerksick CM, Wilborn CD, Roberts MD, et al. ISSN exercise & sports nutrition review update: research & recommendations. J Inter Soc Sports Nutr. 2018;15(1):38. doi:10.1186/s12970-018-0242-y
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