The Importance of Good Nutrition
By Carleton Rivers, RD
If you are like me, summer time is the greatest time of the year. Days filled with friends and fun in the sun. But did you ever think that what you were eating could have a negative effect on how much fun you were having? Well it could! The foods we eat play a role in how we feel each day depending on whether we have eaten too much, not enough, or whether we have chosen the right foods for our body. Summer might also be a great time for you to work on your sports skills before the new season starts. Proper sports nutrition may be your answer to improving your physical abilities. Follow the easy tips that I have listed below to make sure that nothing comes between you and an awesome summer.
Why nutrition is so important with physical activity:
- Promotes recovery
- Helps body adapt to workouts
- Improves body composition and strength
- Helps maintain healthy immune function so you don’t get sick as much
- Reduces chance of injury
- Reduces risk of heat cramps and stomach aches
Fueling up before a physical activity:
- Carbohydrates are key: whole wheat grains (bread, rice, pasta, etc.), fruits, starchy vegetables (sweet potatoes), and low-fat dairy products
- Eat a snack or meal one to three hours prior to a workout so you have enough energy but it does not upset your stomach. You don’t want to eat right before a workout or game.
- Avoid high fat foods like hamburgers; eat more nutrient-dense foods like salads and deli sandwiches.
Why are carbohydrates so important?
It is easiest for your body to make energy from carbohydrates. After you eat a meal, carbohydrates are stored in your body and used up when you become physically active. If you eat a lot of carbs but aren’t active, those unused carbs are turned into fat in the body. If you are competing in a sport that requires a lot of energy for a long period of time (handcycling or biking, distance running or pushing, rowing, etc.), you may need to snack on carbohydrates during the activity to replace the carbs your body has used up.
What happens if you don’t eat enough carbohydrates to fuel your activity?
Once your body has used up all of the stored carbs for energy, it moves on to your body’s stored fat. In severe cases when your body uses up all of its stored carbs and fat, it turns to muscle protein for energy which can be dangerous to your health.
Recovering after physical activity
- Protein is key: peanut butter, low-fat chocolate milk, sandwich, nuts, smoothies with yogurt, and lean meats
- You still need carbohydrates to refill the stored carbs used up during a physical activity.
- Eat a snack within 15 to 20 minutes and a meal three to four hours after an exhaustive physical activity to improve your athletic performance.
Why is protein so important for recovery?
Protein is needed by the body to repair damaged muscle tissue and build new muscle tissue. This is how a person becomes stronger.
What about other nutrients?
Vitamins and minerals are also very important for a physically active body. For instance, calcium is needed for strong bones, iron is used to transport oxygen in the blood, and B vitamins are used to make energy.
Should I take a supplement?
If you are eating a well-balanced diet that is rich in nutrients, you should not need a supplement. Protein supplements should be avoided since they may provide too much protein for a child or teenager. When your body receives too much protein it can harm the kidneys and cause calcium loss and dehydration (more likely to happen from supplementation rather than eating real food).
What do I need if I’m going swimming?
Make sure you bring snacks with you to the pool like granola bars, baby carrots, and sliced fruit. This way your body has the right nutrients to produce energy for you all day. It might be a good idea to also pack a sandwich if you are planning to stay at the pool all day. Don’t forget to bring water as well. It can be easy to get dehydrated while swimming because you might not even know that you are sweating and losing water until it’s too late.
LiveStrong.com. Protein Powder for Kids. http://www.livestrong.com/article/286107-protein-powder-for-kids/.
Pediatric Nutrition Care Manual. Sports Nutrition. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.