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It’s probably no surprise that physical activity, athletic performance, and recovery from exercise are enhanced by optimal nutrition (source). When we select the proper foods and fluids at the right time, it will lead to better health and better exercise performance.
Knowing these benefits, studies have shown that many athletes do not get adequate amounts of many nutrients, including calories, carbohydrates, and several micronutrients. A lot of athletes find it difficult to get the right nutrients to fuel performance. Along with optimal fitness, proper nutrition will help us reach ultimate performance.
5 Popular Nutritional Mistakes made by Athletes
- Fixating only on weight instead of lean mass. In terms of athletic performance, strength-to-weight ratio is what’s important, not total body weight. A balance of energy intake which supports muscle mass and spares protein can enhance athletic performance, appearance, and even bone health (source).
- Not eating on a regular basis. We can only use a limited amount of “energy” from food we eat and any macronutrients (fat, carbs, protein) that we get too much of are stored mainly as fat (source). On the other hand, when we don’t eat enough food, our body breaks down lean muscle, the tissue that requires energy. Apparently, many athletes don’t get the basic nutrients needed, such as proper amounts of calories and carbohydrates. Eating meals more often, while decreasing the meal size may help improve daily energy balance and body composition.
- Unnecessary use of supplements. Vitamin and mineral supplements are used for a variety of reasons, such as to help with a deficiency or to “fill in the gaps” of a poor diet. Although athletes tend to require more vitamins and minerals, a minimal amount can be absorbed a one time. High-dose supplements are generally not used efficiently. For the most part, everyone (not only athletes) should eat a diet that supplies necessary vitamins and minerals from food. Going beyond the requirements for vitamins and minerals doesn’t improve performance and can potentially have a negative affect on fluid balance and health.
- Not maintaining proper hydration. Most of us realize how important hydration is for exercise. The balance of fluid has a direct affect on our ability to maintain sufficient blood volume, which is crucial during prolonged physical activity. Not replenishing both electrolytes and fluid during exercise can cause blood volume to drop, can cause early exhaustion, and can lead to dehydration. In order to keep proper hydration and blood glucose levels, it’s recommended that athletes have a sip of sports drink that has electrolytes and carbs about every 15 minutes while participating in high-intensity exercise.
- Cutting too many calories. Restricting too many calories while trying to lose weight can actually cause a loss of lean mass and fat mass to increase (source). Not getting enough calories can lead to reduced lean muscle. A reduction in muscle mass can result in a decreased resting metabolic rate and increased fat mass. In order to keep metabolism up and stay lean, athletes need to eat enough calories to support physical activity and keep lean muscle.
In the end, when the right amount of calories are eaten, hydration is properly maintained, carbohydrates are highly available, and enough nutrient-dense foods are consumed, all athletes (anyone who participates in physical activity) will benefit. Performance will improve, you’ll notice quicker recovery, see adaptions to training, reduce injury risk, and see an overall improvement in health.
Do you make any of these nutritional mistakes?