Sports Nutrition Food Requirements
Philosophies on what an athlete should eat vary greatly depending on the sport, and the conventional wisdom regarding proper sport nutrition changes with time as well as sport. For example, many of the world's top distance runners have eaten an almost entirely vegetarian diet, while Michael Jordan was famous for eating an enormous steak mere hours before taking the court. Sumo wrestlers feast and sleep, while boxers need to aggressively watch their weight while still taking in lots of nutrition. And of course, everyone's got a crazy uncle who swears by an egg cracked in a beer.
The leading idea in sport nutrition right now is some variation on the "30-30-40" principle. 30-30-40 refers to the percentages of a person's daily calorie consumption based on nutrient category — 30% protein, 30% fat, and 40% carbohydrates. While linebackers may want to adjust these proportions to include more fat and protein, a marathoner may consume a carbohydrate intake that pushes sixty-percent of his or her total calorie consumption.
Like any other healthy diet, sport nutritionists recommend lots of fruits and vegetables. Green, leafy vegetables are especially important, as they're a good source of iron. Potassium is an important nutrient for athletes to seek out; it helps muscles recover and many athletes experience improved performance after adding potassium to their diet. Potassium can be found in large quantities in everyday foods — notably bananas — or taken as a supplement.
Zinc is perhaps sports nutrition's best kept secret. Found in gourd vegetables, zinc is a nutrient that most people in the US — athletes or no — simply don't get enough of. Eat gourds and squashes and mangoes to raise your zinc intake. It helps develop new muscle and increases endurance. If you choose to take a supplement, be sure to do so on a full stomach.
In general, a diet that includes lots of grains and fresh produce is the basis for good sports nutrition. Nutrients found in food sources are more effective than those taken as a supplement, and sports drinks and energy bars may not be as effective as many people believe.
Except under exceptional circumstances, it takes over an hour and a half of sustained physical activity to require the electrolytes in sports drinks, and steady carbo-loading from foods such as bread and pasta is far more potent than an energy bar an hour before the game. Finally, don't forget to drink plenty of water!