Nutritional requirements vary per person and per sport. This is an overview and guideline of the necessary components for optimal performance based on a 1 game per week schedule. This is ideal for sports such as football, competitive cheerleading, swimming, and other teams that have long breaks between matches, competitions, or games.
Carbohydrates are the body’s first source of fuel. They are burned early on during activity to provide the body with energy. This early burn usually lasts up to 90 minutes. Carbohydrates that are not burned during exercise in the body are stored in the muscles and liver. Therefore, if you are not consistently doing heavy exercise for more than 90 minutes and eating a normal amount of carbohydrates, the idea of “carb loading” or indulging in a lot of carbohydrate rich foods prior to a big game may not be necessary. For those individuals who consistently do 90 minutes or more of heavy exercise, a pre-competition diet 2 days prior to the event where 70% of the calories come from carbohydrates may be beneficial. This is a large jump from the 45-65% of calories that should be taken in from carbs on a regular basis.
Fats are the body’s second source of fuel. Fats are much harder for the body to burn up; therefore, they get used less frequently. Since they are harder to break down and much easier to store than carbohydrates, they should be taken in less frequently. Only, 20-30% of an athlete’s regular diet should be made up of calories from fat. As carbohydrate intake increases within the 2 days leading up to competitions, that percentage of calories from fat should not fall below 15% for optimal performance.
Proteins are the building blocks for muscle in the body. It is essential that the need for additional protein following exercise is met to ensure proper muscle growth and development. The amount of protein needed per day is greatly dependent on current body weight and sport requirements. An endurance athlete needs to eat between 1.2-1.4 grams of protein/kg of body weight. A strength athlete needs to eat between 1.6-1.7 grams of protein/kg of body weight.
A 150 pound endurance runner would figure out her recommended intake level by: 150 pounds/2.2 pounds = 68.2 kg; 68.2 kg x 1.2 g = 81.8 grams of protein.
Obviously, these amounts are in ranges, so there is some room for deviation. It is paramount to ensure that following a large bout of exercise to always consume protein to ensure proper muscle healing.
Hydration is a huge component of nutrition that at times can be overlooked. It is essential that fluids are consumed regularly and often leading up for a big competition. Increased fluid consumption should begin two days prior to a large event. The normal level of fluid consumption is 64 ounces a day. The goal for the two days leading up to an event should be 100 ounces per day. This number must increase if soda or caffeinated beverages are consumed. Also, on the day of the big event it is imperative to continue consuming water through the event itself. Rehydration post-event and in the following days is necessary for proper organ function and preparation for the next big event.