How Much Does Diet Impact Athletic Performance: How Can Coaches Support Better Diets for Athletes?
In one of our previous articles, we covered the importance of sleep and why teams win or lose depending on the amount and quality of sleep athletes get.
In this article, we’re considering another serious matter that doesn’t happen in training fields or gyms: What do athletes eat?
We are asking the questions:
- How Much Does Diet Impact Athletic Performance?
- How Can Coaches Support Better Diets for Athletes?
Most of us know that what we eat can significantly impact our mental and physical health. Hence the phrase, we are what we eat.
What athletes eat is as essential as sleep, exercise, physical training, and mental health. However, it’s important to understand just how crucial getting the right diet is for athletes.
How Much Does Diet Impact Athletic Performance?
According to the science behind athletic diets: “Athletes will have different nutritional needs than the general public. They may require more calories and macronutrients to maintain strength and energy to compete at their optimum level.”
Studies into this go on to say: “Athletes may need to consider:
- their caloric needs
- macronutrient amounts and ratios
- meal and snack timings
- vitamins and minerals for recovery and performance
Tailoring these considerations to an athlete’s body weight and composition, the amount of time spent training, and the type of sport they do can improve their performance.”
Based on reviews by the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN), athletes need to adjust what and how much they eat according to their physical activity.
For example, endurance athletes need more carbohydrates, whereas strength athletes need to consume more proteins.
In most cases, athletes don’t need to take micronutrients, vitamins, or mineral supplements, especially because, in many cases, there’s “little evidence to support the efficacy or safety of many dietary supplements.”
However, we know that many athletes are willing to try various supplements to see if they improve performance, providing athletic oversight organizations don’t ban them.
Hydration is crucial for athletes, especially when the ISSN and countless sports nutrition experts say that “when a person loses 2% or more of their body weight through sweat, it can significantly impair their performance.”
When athletes sweat through exercise, they lose many fluids and electrolytes. One of the best ways to replenish those in the body is through sports drinks, water, and milk. A combination of those is an effective way to rehydrate the body.
How Can Coaches Support Better Diets for Athletes?
As coaches, we must ensure our athletes eat the right foods at the right times and stay hydrated.
A healthy balanced diet is crucial for the success of every athlete. It will help them achieve peak performance while supporting them through any injuries.
Your team may already employ sports nutritionist specialists, coaches, or consultants to guide athletes on what they eat. Athletes sometimes have food prepared for them, and their calorific intake is monitored alongside other performance indicators.
If that’s the case, your coaching job is somewhat easier. Providing athletes are sticking to the diet they’ve been prescribed, of course. You need to ask them about what they’re eating and how much they’re drinking, especially if you notice any changes to their performance or energy recently.
However, to ensure you’re clear on what athletes should eat, here are some of the best sources of healthy carbohydrates, fats, and proteins:
- Healthy carbohydrates include: brown rice, quinoa, oats, pasta, and starchy vegetables, such as potatoes.
- Healthy fats include: oily fish, olive oil, avocados, nuts, and seeds.
- Healthy proteins include: lean meat and poultry; fish and seafood; eggs and dairy products; beans and lentils; nuts and seeds; and soy, including tofu and tempeh
How an athlete balances these different food sources depends on the type of physical activity their sport requires of them. Or whether they’re trying to decrease or increase body fat or muscle or make other changes to their body. Whether athletes have recently been injured might also impact their diet too.
There’s a lot we can do as coaches to support our athletes. To ensure athletes are performing at the level we need, coaches should monitor their athlete’s calorific intake, what they’re eating, and how much liquid they’re consuming, and give advice and guidance whenever possible, alongside any input from professional nutritionists.
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