By Chris Dellasega, MS, CSCS
Posted: September 15, 2012 - 8:45 PM
Part one of this article covered the basics of an in-season strength-training program. Part two will cover nutrition and how it is a vital component to maximizing performance on the field.
As modern sports increase in popularity, the level of intensity with which these sports are prepared for and played is also increasing. With this increase in popularity the physical requirements of athletes’ bodies are also increasing. With the increase in physical demand and schedules that are on par with professional athletes little is done to ensure athletes are eating properly.
It is rare that high school athletes follow a proper nutrition plan. When properly followed, a quality nutrition plan can improve body-composition and performance on the field. A poor nutrition plan compromises an athlete’s ability to recover. For any athlete who wants to perform their best and potentially play at the next level following a quality, regimented nutrition plan cannot be overstated.
First, a quality nutrition plan does NOT include fast food, sugar-laden energy drinks, poor-quality supplements or prolonged periods of not eating. It does means eating foods with a high nutrient value; high quality proteins, loads of vegetables, the right fruits (fruits with a low glycemic load), quality fats and eating every 2-3 hours.
After working with football players at the high school, collegiate and professional level I have noticed something interesting about their nutritional habits. The high school players rarely ate breakfast, some of the collegiate players ate breakfast and some did not, but all of the pro guys ate breakfast. Study after study reports that skipping breakfast decreases cognitive function and mental clarity, decreases energy levels and leads to cravings later in the day
Proteins directly impact its overall value in sustaining growth and the maintenance of muscle tissue.
The word protein is derived from the Greek word “proteios”, which means “primary” or “in the lead”. Protein should always be eaten first in a meal followed by carbohydrates/fiber, which will help to improve digestion.
An athlete’s breakfast should include a high-quality protein, which stimulates neurotransmitter (chemical messengers in the brain) production, and a variety of nuts, which will stabilize blood sugar levels. This meat and nut breakfast will increase mental clarity and energy levels and decrease cravings throughout the day. (Read more here about The Meat & Nut Breakfast).
An athlete’s overall nutrition plan should also include lots of high-quality proteins. A high-quality protein is a protein that consists of an order of amino acids that is similar to that which is needed by the body. High-quality proteins are essentially animal proteins: meat, fish, poultry and eggs.
What Kind of Proteins?
Consume only organic grass-fed and grass finished meats. Meats that come from “factory farms” are often full of antibiotics, steroids and bovine growth hormone. The fat in these meats is often high in Omega-6’s, which are known to cause inflammation, and low in Omega-3’s, which reduce inflammation. Processed meats are worse as they are full of sodium and nitrates and have no nutritive value.
Meeting a Protein Goal
Resistance training, practice and games increase an athlete’s protein requirements in order to preserve muscle mass, strength and maintain tissue repair. The general recommendation is 1.5-2 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight per day.
The central role of carbohydrates in the human body is to function as a fuel source. Research has shown that diets including carbohydrates increase the ability to sustain high-intensity effort for prolonged periods by increasing the body’s ability to store glycogen.
Glyogen is the primary source of stored energy for working muscles and is very important in sports that require maximal effort over a prolonged period, like football. Two-thirds of glycogen is stored in skeletal muscle (muscles that are worked through exercise or sport), while the remaining one-third is stored in the liver.
Carbohydrates are classified into three groups: monosaccharides, such as glucose, disaccharides, found in fruits, and polysaccharides, such as vegetables.
An athlete’s nutrition plan should include a variety of the right fruits and an assortment of vegetables in order to obtain a wider variety of vitamins and minerals. Choosing the right fruits and vegetables ensures an athlete is getting enough glucose and glycogen.
All Carbohydrates Are Not Created Equal
For athletes who want to maximize performance it is important to understand that all carbohydrates are not created equal. The metabolic response to a carbohydrate is different depending on the kind of carbohydrate. Therefore a working knowledge of the glycemic index and glycemic load of carbohydrates is extremely beneficial to athletes.
The glycemic index is a numerical system that measures the circulating blood sugar response to a carbohydrate regardless of the amount eaten. The greater the blood sugar response a carbohydrate causes, the higher the number on the glycemic index. Carbohydrates having a glycemic index of 70, or higher are high, 55-69 is moderate and of 55, or less, is low.
The glycemic load of a carbohydrate is a numerical system that measures the circulating blood sugar response that is dependent on the amount eaten. The glycemic load of a carbohydrate is based on the glycemic index and understanding both is important. Carbohydrates with a glycemic load of 20, or higher are high, 11-19 is moderate, and 10, or less is low.
A high intake of high glycemic index and high glycemic load carbohydrates causes insulin levels to increase, which causes body-fat storage. An increase in body-fat can decrease performance.
Therefore, athletes should base their carbohydrate intake around vegetables of multiple colors and eat a variety of low glycemic index fruits. For a list of glycemic index and loads visit: http://www.mendosa.com/gilists.htm
Carbohydrate Intake Requirements
An intake of at least 50-100 grams of carbohydrates per day is required to prevent the loss of glycogen stored in the liver, which will help preserve muscle mass.
Daily recommendation for carbohydrates is 45-60% of daily caloric intake, or 5-6 grams of carbohydrates per pound of bodyweight per day. This should come primarily from vegetables, such as sweet potatoes and grains, such as brown rice or amaranth and quinoa, which is a seed, not a grain. A nutrition plan with these carbohydrates ensures that energy levels (i.e. glycogen levels) are restored.
Dietary fibers are also a form of carbohydrate and are generally resistant to human digestive enzymes, thereby increasing bulk and water content of “food” in the digestive tract. This increase in bulk and content increases the transit time of the “food” through the digestive tract.
A nutrition plan that is rich in vegetables, fruits and specific grains will likely provide an athlete with the recommended daily 25 grams of dietary fiber.
The term fat is generally used to describe triglycerides, where lipid is a broader term used to describe multiple fatty compounds, like cholesterol. An athlete’s nutrition plan should include plenty of healthy fats. Fats produce approximately twice as much “energy” as carbohydrates.
Fats also act as a carrier for vitamins A, D, E and K, and supply the most important fatty acids, Omega-3s and Omega-6s. These fatty acids are critical to the proper development of healthy cell membranes, the proper functioning of the brain and nervous system and the production of hormones.
Cholesterol is also important, but many times receives negative attention. However, cholesterol also contributes to cellular structure and serves a functional role in cell membranes. It also significantly impacts the production of bile salts, vitamin D, androgens (like testosterone), and the stress hormone cortisol.
Fat intake should come from polyunsaturated fats, such as sunflower and safflower oils, monounsaturated fats, such as olive, peanut and canola oils, saturated fats, such as animal fat, coconut, and palm kernel oils. It is common to see a fat intake of higher than 30% in elite athletes. Ensuring that an athletes diet is rich in Omega-3s is also important for improving insulin sensitivity in cells, reducing systemic inflammation and many other ailments.
Take Home Points
The athlete who is serious about improving their performance and follows a quality, regimented nutrition plan stands a far greater chance at playing the next level than the athlete who does not.
To follow a high quality consume a diet rich in organic grass-fed and grass finished meats, which also provide quality saturated fats. Eat carbohydrates that have a low glycemic index and glycemic load and increase carbohydrate intake the day following a game. Ensure enough monounsaturated fats, saturated fats and polyunsaturated fats are consumed by using sunflower, safflower, olive, coconut and palm kernel oils.
The first step to increasing performance is eating for performance.
Chris Dellasega is the High Performance Director for Dynamic Athletics Research Institute. Contact Chris at email@example.com.