- INSIDE ATHLETICS
- FOR THE STUDENTS
Whether you want to believe it or not, what you eat plays a significant role in accomplishing your athletic goals. Unfortunately, many athletes are not fully aware of what they are putting into their bodies or they simply do not know what choices to make to best serve their needs. With all of the fad diets and misinformation in the magazines, it is difficult to tell which information is true and which is garbage.
Perhaps the most important thing you should know about nutrition is that there simply are no miracles. Good nutrition is not about eating a salad for lunch today; good nutrition is about leading a healthy lifestyle and creating consistent proper eating habits that help you get where you want to be.
Unfortunately, nutrition is the one component of strength and conditioning programs where most people are misinformed or misunderstood. Everywhere you turn, you hear or read about someone who has gained or lost twenty pounds in one week. This type of information is misleading and dangerous. As athletes, you must know the facts about diet and dietary habits in order to perform at your optimum level. You cannot run a high performance racecar on kerosene. The following are facts and general guidelines that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), American Medical Association (AMA), American Dietetic Association (ADA) and the Canadian Dietetic Association has put out on nutrition. Every athlete should adhere to these facts for better health and increased performance.
A Balanced Diet. Everyone should eat a well balanced diet. A balanced diet is defined as consuming approximately 55 to 60% of your daily calories from carbohydrates, 20 to 25% fat and 15 to 20% protein.
Complex Carbohydrates and Sugars. Probably the most overeaten food for athletes is sugar. Sugar can be found in all kinds of foods and in different forms, such as glucose, fructose and galactose, referred to as monosaccharides or sucrose, lactose and maltose, referred as disaccharides. Technically, sugar is a simple carbohydrate, so be aware of that when you read a food label. Most food labels will separate carbohydrates into complex carbs, sugars and dietary fiber. The complex carbohydrates, or polysaccharides and fiber, including cellulose, hemicellulose and pectin, are what you should try to eat mostly. This is the good stuff. Fiber is not a significant source of energy and comes primarily from the walls of plant cells. Actually, it is recommended that people consume at least 20, preferably 25 to 30, grams of fiber each day, in order to keep the digestive tract healthy and working properly. For those who are into endurance training, it is also recommended that you consume up to 3.6 to 4.5 grams of carbs per pound a day. While you do not need to eliminate it from your diet, sugar should not constitute the main portion of your carbohydrate intake. Whenever possible, avoid high sugar foods such as sodas and candy.
More About Carbohydrates Glucose is the most important carbohydrate. It is essential for brain function. It is also the form of carbohydrate used for energy in humans and other mammals and is often called "blood sugar". Glucose is found naturally in many fruits and vegetable juices, but it commonly combines with another monosaccharide to form a disaccharide. For example, sucrose or table sugar is a disaccharide containing one molecule of glucose and a molecule of fructose, which is the primary sugar in most fruits. Lactose is a combination of glucose and galactose and occurs only in milk, including human milk. Maltose is a combination of two glucose units and is formed during the breakdown of starch. Complex carbohydrates are many glucose molecules, often hundreds, joined in long chains. During digestion, the starches are broken down into simple sugars that are then absorbed and utilized, as any other sugar would be. When blood sugar levels fall, glycogen, the storage form of glucose, is also reconverted to glucose to provide a ready source of energy.
Fats - Saturated, Unsaturated, Omega 3? Probably the most questioned nutrient is fat. Fats are an essential part of a nutritious diet. In addition to serving as an energy source, fats are essential components of cell membranes and are needed for the absorption and use of some vitamins. Fat also makes meals more tasty and satisfying. Everyone wants to know how much he or she can eat, how to eliminate it, what foods to stay away from and so on. Contrary to popular belief, fat is not inherently bad. Actually, fat can be a good thing as long as you do not overdo it. Fat should account for 20 to 25% of your diet. Most food labels tell you what percentage of fat the food contains, so you can keep an eye on your fat content. Just try not to get too hung up on it. The more fit you are, the more fat is used by your body as fuel. When a muscle is well trained, it uses fat more efficiently as a source of energy. Researchers have found that the more fatty acids are released from the muscle, the more fat your body will use as energy during physical activity.
Reduce Intake of Foods High in Saturated and Trans Fats. Foods high in saturated fats are commonly found in the milk and meats groups, although certain plant oils, such as coconut and palm oil, are also high in saturated fat. In the milk group, look for skim milk and nonfat diary products, such as nonfat yogurt and nonfat cottage cheese. Small amounts of regular cheese and low fat cheese can be used for flavoring, such as small portions of cheese crumbled onto a salad. Trans fats are found in any product containing hydrogenated oils, especially some margarine, some peanut butter, salad dressing and baked goods. Trans fats have the same negative health effects as saturated fats and should be kept to a minimum in the diet. Choose healthful sources of dietary fats, nuts and seeds, avocados, plant oils, such as olive and flaxseed oil and fish. These foods contain fatty acids that are essential for good health, when consumed in moderation.
Protein - "The muscle building stuff" As a college athlete, it is often a challenge to get enough quality protein in your diet. What I mean by "quality protein" is protein without excessive fat in it. If you are eating Whoppers and Big Macs all day, excessive fat will be a problem. You should try to get protein from sources relatively low in fat. It is important to make good choices and plan what you are going to eat ahead of time. A great way to balance your diet is to eat a small amount of protein with your carbohydrates. For example, eat a little chicken or fish with your pasta or rice, put some peanut butter on a bagel or eat two egg whites with some toast.
Protein is needed to build and maintain muscle, blood, skin and bones and other tissues and organs of the body. Protein can also be used to provide energy. Protein is made from amino acids, the primary building blocks of the body. When protein is eaten and digested, it is broken down into amino acids, which are then absorbed and used to build new tissues.
Good sources of proteins are all types of red meat, poultry, fish, beans, peas, goya beans, groundnuts, milk, cheese, yogurt and eggs. To get the best from these foods it is important to ensure that the body's energy requirements are met from other foods. If not, the amino acids from the protein will be converted to glucose and used for energy, and will not be available for building new protein and tissue. Eating more protein than is needed can be wasteful, excess protein will be converted to glucose and used as energy or stored in the body as fat.
More About Protein There are about 23 different amino acids used by the human body. These can be joined together in a wide variety of combinations to make protein. Most of these amino acids can be made by the body from carbohydrates and other amino acids. However, nine amino acids cannot be made by the body and must be present in the food we eat. These nine are called "essential amino acids". If adequate amounts of each of these essential amino acids are not present in the diet, then the body will not be able to make all the protein it needs, nor use effectively all of the proteins which has been eaten.
Different types of protein in the foods we eat have different amounts of the amino acids required by the human body. Protein from animals, that is the protein found in red meat, milk, fish and eggs, have most of the essential amino acids. The protein found in foods from plants usually has lesser amounts of one or more of these amino acids. However, by eating a combination of different types of foods it is possible to get all the amino acids one needs. For example, eating legumes or pulses (beans, peas, lentils) with cereals (rice, maize, wheat, sorghum) will provide a balanced mix of amino acids. In addition, milk, yogurt, nuts, seeds, meat or fish eaten along with staple food can provide an adequate source of amino acids to meet the body's protein needs.