Meal Planning for Athletes to Manifest Optimal Results

Athletes have to work hard to develop their specific skills; they spend a lot of time improving strength and cardiovascular conditioning. If they start skipping their workouts and practice sessions regularly, their skill level stagnates for a while, and eventually drops to a sub-par level.

Nutrition is another part of “training”, and athletes who are not eating properly are missing an opportunity to enhance and improve their performance. However, sometimes demanding training and travel schedules and a possible lack of knowledge about nutrition may prohibit certain athletes from maintaining an optimal dietary intake. As a matter of fact, according to a study conducted by the US Sports Academy, over 40% of athletes lack nutrition knowledge.


If a person gets 8 hours of sleep every night, they are awake for 112 hours every week. This means that a 20-hour-per-week training regimen leaves the athlete with more than 90 non-training hours. What you eat during those 90-plus hours can make the difference between functioning at a high level and getting rusty – or at worst, breaking down. While there’s no question that professional athletes are hard-working people, the matter of the facts is – eating properly, even when your life seems too busy is actually possible. As you can see, meal planning for athletes is extremely important for their success.

The Importance of Nutrient Timing

Most traditional nutritionists have spent much of their valuable time figuring out how much to eat and what to eat. For the average person that’s trying to lose weight, these are the two most important factors in their diet. However, athletes have specific dietary needs, and the importance of nutrient timing must not be underestimated. According to a famous, often-cited study from the Victoria University, proteins and carbohydrates taken around a training session lead to more muscle mass and strength gains than those same nutrients eaten further from the session.

meal planning for athletes
Meal planning for athletes

Post-workout Meal Planning for Athletes

The primary goal of a post-workout meal is to replenish your glycogen levels. Glycogen is one of the primary fuels for muscular contraction, and refueling it as soon as possible is critical for your next training session. If you train twice a day, you need to start this process in no longer than two hours after you finish your session. A recent study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition revealed that only people who train once per day could get the adequate glycogen recovery without post-workout meals.

Supplementation Strategy

A strict supplement regime is vital for keeping your strength levels up during training; it will also allow you to hold on to as much muscle mass as possible, no matter how demanding your workout schedule is. The last thing you want is for your body to become catabolic.

Moreover, as professor Melvin H. Williams, from the Old Dominion University points out, dietary supplementation with antioxidant vitamins has favorable effects on exercise-induced muscle damage. For example, famous Australian athletes such as Jesse Parahi and Kathy Nisbet use Pure Edge supplements to avoid injuries and give themselves a noticeable edge during training and competition.


Avoid Crash Diets and Plan Your Meals Carefully

Possibly the biggest mistake any athlete can make is to reduce or to limit their caloric intake in an attempt to get lean. Crash diets cause reduced stores of carbohydrates in the body, which are vital for training and performance. That’s why most of these diets lead to muscle breakdown, as the body eventually starts to use protein as an alternative fuel source.

Without an adequate amount of carbs and fats in your diet, your muscles will not get the amount of energy they need to perform at optimal levels. Experts from Colorado State University explain that your body needs 70% of its daily calories to come from carbohydrate-rich foods, such as cereals and potatoes. So, plan and time each meal carefully and make sure to make healthy choices for the best results.

Eating a Quality Daily Diet

Let’s start by saying – yes, virtually everyone loves their energy bars and shakes before a long ride, but what are you actually eating when you are not running, swimming, or cycling? According to Matt Fitzgerald, author of the weight-management book “Racing Weight”, general health is the foundation of endurance training, and a high-quality diet is vital for general health.

meal planning for athletes
Meal planning for athletes

Most athletes (especially triathletes) struggle to become leaner, because heavy training sessions inflate their appetite, and a quality diet should satisfy the appetite in a calorically efficient way. If you want to correct your diet without hiring a professional nutritionist, perhaps try keeping a score with a system, like the USDA-approved, MyPlate Supertracker.


Macronutrient Monitoring

Up until this point, we have primarily talked about the importance of your diet and meal planning for athletes, however, fueling your body goes beyond eating fruits and vegetables. Different macronutrients, like fats, proteins, and carbohydrates all have several crucial functions in your body. So, logically, it is vital to give your body the right amount of each.

Jamie Cooper, the author of “The Complete Nutrition Guide for Triathletes” says that the exact amount of each macronutrient varies depending on what type of athlete you are. Nevertheless, as a rule of thumb, you should aim to get somewhere between 45% and 65% of your daily calories from carbohydrate, 20% to 35% from fat, and around 15% from protein.

Hydration Strategy

If you are a runner, cyclist, or a rower, chances are you are spending a lot of time outdoors. During the warmer months, it is important to pay special attention to proper hydration to help prevent any heat related illnesses.

Fortunately, scientists have studied hydration – or rather, the lack there of.

Villanova University recently published the newest edition of “Hydration Guidelines for Athletes”, based on numerous studies and experiments, conducted by their researchers. The researchers recommend that you should intake at least 17 oz. of liquid every 2 to 3 hours, and 6 to 12 oz. immediately before and after exercise. In addition, if your practice lasts longer than an hour, be sure to consume 30-60 g of  carbohydrates every hour.

 


Author Bio: Peter Minkoff

Peter is a health and fitness writer for Ripped.me magazine. He is dedicated to healthy living, exercising and spending time outdoors as much as possible. A firm believer in healthy dieting, natural smoothies, and healthy energy drinks for overall health benefits, Peter is powered by true motivation in all aspects of yoga and fitness. He hopes to run his own yoga and fitness center someday. You can follow Peter on Twitter here.

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