No matter your training goals, being physically active affects your nutritional needs. Eating the right foods will help keep your energy up throughout intense training and support recovery. This means eating a healthy balance of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats, in addition to staying hydrated and covering your micronutrient bases.

Sports nutrition includes what you eat on a daily basis, along with what you eat when you’re training and competing.

Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates from fruits and vegetables are the most important source of energy for anyone engaged in moderate physical activity. They supply energy and help to replenish glycogen reserves for future sporting activities. Aim to get 45–55% of your total daily caloric intake from carbohydrates, or 5–7 g per kg of body weight.[1,2]

Choosing the right sources of carbohydrates is also important. The glycemic index (GI) is a ranking of carbohydrates according to how they will affect your blood sugar levels.

Low GI foods

Low GI foods, such as oats, are digested slowly and gradually release glucose into your blood. They supply a steady, longer-lasting source of energy and should make up the majority of the carbohydrates that you eat. Low GI sources of carbohydrates include:

  • Cauliflower, broccoli, peppers, green beans, and other veggies
  • Leafy greens, such as kale, lettuce, and spinach
  • Legumes and beans, such as lentils, kidney beans, and chick peas
  • Oats, quinoa, brown rice, rye, and other whole grains
  • Fruit such as apples, bananas, pears, berries, and oranges

High GI foods

High GI foods, such as white bread, are digested quickly and allow a rapid release of glucose into the blood for fast-burning energy. High GI foods are generally low in vitamins and minerals and should only be eaten when you need an easy-to-digest pick-up in energy, such as during the mid-point of an endurance race. High GI sources of carbohydrates include:

  • White rice, pasta, and bread
  • Baked potatoes
  • Honey, syrup, and sweets

Protein

Protein is important for building and repairing muscles, as well as maintaining blood sugar levels during endurance exercise when your carbohydrate stores are depleted. The average active adult should aim to consume 1.2–2.0 g of protein per kg of body weight per day.[2]

Protein from meat and dairy products are considered complete because they contain all nine essential amino acids, while plant proteins are often incomplete because they lack at least one of the essential amino acids. Vegetarian and vegan athletes with high protein needs can overcome this by eating a wide variety of plant-based proteins over the course of the day. Delicious sources of protein include:

  • Lean meats, chicken breast, and turkey
  • Sockeye salmon, sardines, and mackerel
  • Lentils and soybeans
  • Tofu
  • Eggs
  • Milk, yogourt, and low-fat cottage cheese
  • Nuts such as walnuts and almonds, and seeds such as pumpkin, chia, flax, and sunflower

Fats

Good fats are especially important for active people. They supply a dense source of energy (9 calories per g) and help your body absorb fat-soluble vitamins D, E, A, and K.[3] Fats should comprise at least 20% of your total caloric intake.[2] The key is choosing foods that are sources of good monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.

Healthy sources of fat include:

  • Oily fish, such as wild salmon, halibut, sardines, and anchovies, which are great sources of omega-3 fatty acids [3]
  • Certified Organic Flaxseed Oil, a rich plant source of omega-3 essential fatty acids that contains 530 mg of alpha-linolenic (ALA) acid in each convenient softgel
  • Nuts, seeds, and their butters, such as almond butter
  • Avocado and avocado oil for healthy monounsaturated fat and fat-soluble vitamin E
  • Coconut oil, which is considered nutritious and is easily converted into usable energy, even though it is saturated

Vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants

Micronutrients are needed for everything from energy metabolism and combating fatigue to repairing tissues. Including a wide variety of fruits and vegetables in your diet should supply the micronutrients you need; however, athletes should pay particular attention to the following:[2]

Iron
Iron is needed to carry oxygen throughout the body. When you do not get enough, you may experience fatigue, impaired muscle function, low immunity, and impaired brain function. Vegetarians and long-distance runners are at a greater risk of deficiency than other athletes. The recommended iron intake is:[4]
• Men over 19 years: 14 mg/day
• Women 19 years–post menopause: 33 mg/day
• Women post menopause: 14 mg/day

Calcium

Calcium is particularly important for the development, maintenance, and repair of bone tissue. It is also needed to regulate muscle contraction and nerve impulses.[2]
The recommended intake is:[5]

  • Adults 19–50 years: 1000 mg/day
  • Adults over 50 years: 1200 mg/day

Vitamin D

Vitamin D helps the body absorb and use calcium and phosphorus. It is also involved in maintaining bone and skeletal muscle health.[2]
The recommended intake is:[3]

  • Adults under 70 years: 600 IU (15 mcg)
  • Adults over 70 years: 800 IU (20 mcg)

Antioxidants
Antioxidants help protect the body’s cells and tissues from oxidative damage. This is important for athletes because intense exercise may generate more oxidative stress.[2] The best way to increase your antioxidant intake is by eating a wide variety of fresh plant-based foods.

Hydration

Hydration is always important, but when you’re exercising it becomes your number one priority. Experts recommend drinking 5–10 mL of water per kg of body weight within the two to four hours leading up to your workout. While exercising, drink enough to replace the water lost through sweat (about 0.3–2.4 L per hour).[2]

A key part of hydration is replacing electrolytes – especially sodium. If you don’t, your blood sodium concentration could fall, leading to a dangerous condition called hyponatremia. You can help replenish the sodium lost through sweat by adding 0.5–0.7 g/L of sodium to your water bottle when exercising for more than one hour.[6]

Sports nutrition supports better athletic performance, energy, and rest through healthy eating. In addition to setting a solid nutritional strategy, you can consult a nutritionist or registered dietician for a more personalized plan.

References:

  1. Pramuková B, Szabadosová V, Šoltésová A. Current knowledge about sports nutrition.Australas Med J2011; 4(3):107-110.
  2. Thomas DT, Erdman KA, Burke LM. 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. 2016;116(3):501-528.
  3. Government of Canada. Fats. Available from: https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/nutrients/fats.html [Accessed 14th February 2019].
  4. Health Link BC. Iron and Your Health. Available from: https://www.healthlinkbc.ca/healthlinkbc-files/iron-health [Accessed 14th February 2019].
  5. Government of Canada. Vitamin D and Calcium: Updated Dietary Reference Intakes. Available from: https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/food-nutrition/healthy-eating/vitamins-minerals/vitamin-calcium-updated-dietary-reference-intakes-nutrition.html#a7 [Accessed 14th February 2019].
  6. Racinais S, Alonso JM, Coutts AJ, et al. Consensus recommendations on training and competing in the heat. Scan J Med Sci Sports. 2015; 25 Suppl 1:6-19.