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Energy Levels for Athletes

When it comes to gaining energy for exercise several factors should be considered before planning a meal as it is the first nutrition priority for athletes. For optimal athletic performance achieving energy balance is essential as it helps to maintain lean tissue mass, immune and reproductive function. Energy intake refers to energy gained in totality from food, fluids and supplement products and energy expenditure refers to the total energy expended in basal metabolism, thermal effect of food and any physical activity. Energy intake should equal energy expenditure to achieve an energy balance. Any imbalance will interfere with the athlete’s performance.

High energy intake and low expenditure can lead excess weight gain and low energy intake and high energy expenditure can lead to loss of muscle mass, strength and endurance. In the latter situation fat and lean body mass are used as fuel for energy, moreover chronically low energy intake can precipitate many micronutrient deficiencies.

The energy intake of an athlete would vary according to sex, age, body-size, fat-free mass, lifestyle, physical activity and type of sport a person is in. The Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDA) for men and women that are involved in light-moderate activity between the ages of 19-50 years are 2,900 and 2,200 respectively. The energy intake of an athlete is calculated on the basis of the intensity, duration and frequency of an exercise, also energy needed for normal daily activity and energy expenditure while performing an exercise are taken in to account. How much ever precise numeric energy intake guidelines are recommended, it is important to keep in mind to consume enough energy to maintain appropriate body weight and composition.  

Low energy intakes are a strict no-no for athletes as they would not even feel deprived or over hungry with 10-20% lower energy intake but on the contrary lose weight. Emphasis in the diet should be laid on starch intake or complex carbohydrates in the form of whole grains and cereals; proteins in the form of fish, lean meat, eggs, chicken, pulses, legumes and sprouts, and fruits and vegetables for vital nutrients and fiber. Fat intake should not be decreased below 15% of the caloric intake and focus should be on quality fats. Saturated fats and trans fats can be substituted with more healthy fats like polyunsaturated fats and monounsaturated fats. Healthy dietary changes should be inculcated in life for life time; one should keep in mind that short term diet would definitely fade off some day.

Diet Plan For Athletes

Diet plans for seasoned athletes and athletes in training vary depending on the sport they practice. What may be an ideal diet plan for a weightlifter may not be suitable for someone who is a sprinter.  Meal plans for athletes should be based on an understanding of the energy needs of the individual playing a particular sport. The food and drink that forms a part of the meal plan for an athlete provide him or her with the fuel he or she needs to produce the required energy for the sport practiced and enables the body to cool down after a burst of intense activity. The jury is still out on the effectiveness of energy bands for athletes. The performance of an athlete depends on the ability to galvanize the body into action at will and endure tough conditions as long as needed, thanks to extensive training and appropriate nutritious meals that strengthen their muscles.

High energy foods for athletes’ diet plans include whole grains like oatmeal to provide the carbohydrates needed for an energy boost. Proteins from lean meats, nuts, and seafood help increase muscle mass in body builders and weightlifters. Nutritious meal plans for athletes should be balanced in such a way that they include enough carbohydrates to produce the energy required and to better utilize the protein consumed for building muscles. Without enough carbohydrates, the body may burn protein for energy, leading to dehydration and poor performances.  A healthy diet plan for athletes may involve five smaller meals in a day rather than two or three large meals. Athlete meal plans cover all aspects of the sport, from eating before a training and exercise session to eating after training, snacking, and eating before a competition, apart from rehydration to help cool the body after a high-octane performance. When it comes to nutritious meal planning, all these aspect have to be taken into consideration.

Breakfast should be a light meal for those who workout in the morning. Nutritious meal recipes include those that have a combination of fruits, cereal, and eggs so as to ensure that the athlete gets vitamins, minerals, proteins and carbohydrates to fuel his or her performance. Juices or water serve to hydrate the body. For those who work out in the evenings, breakfast can be a heavy meal, but lunch should be lighter, with lean meats, whole grain bread, a salad and fruits. Diet plans for athletes can include a dinner that is high in protein, omega -3 fatty acids, and carbohydrates to help the body repair and build muscle when it is at rest, allowing it to recover its strength. An athlete meal plan should include some healthy snacks like protein bars as athletes cannot eat big meals before working out or competing. Healthy snacks like yoghurt or fruit after a workout also ensure that the body gets the essential nutrients required for its functioning. Including snacking in a meal plan for athletes is also a way of ensuring that athletes do not end up eating big meals before a competition.

One of the major factors to influence an athlete’s performance is dehydration. Weakness due to dehydration stops athletes from reaching their peak level of performance. The body can neither produce nor store water, but it can lose a lot of water through sweating and urination. Athletes can ensure that they are well hydrated by checking if their urine is clear. Dark colored urine is a sign of dehydration. Those who take part in sports that require spurts of intense energy and those who compete in sports that require endurance over long periods of time need to consume a lot more water than the normal eight glasses per day. A diet plan for athletes includes juices, protein shakes, and sports drinks with carbohydrates and added sodium to replace fluid and electrolytes lost because of sweating during training workouts, in addition to plain water. Caffeinated soft drinks and coffee are best avoided as they are diuretics and cause loss of more water. Since athletes cannot eat big meals before or soon after a competition, healthy drinks and shakes provide the necessary energy giving carbohydrates.

When high intensity bursts of power and energy are required in sports like baseball or football, athletes need high energy diet plans. These cater to the need for carbohydrates as fuel for energy and protein for building muscle mass. Nutrients and minerals like iron, calcium, and vitamins B, C and E strengthen the system with antioxidants that help reduce the damage caused by free radicals released in bursts of intense activity and prevent fatigue from setting in.
Gymnasts, on the other hand, should optimize body composition and maintain the ratio between strength and weight to look svelte and perform highly skilled acrobatics that appear effortless. Diet plans for athletes and growing gymnasts should focus on making them strong with relatively low body fat percentage. The nutritious meal plan for gymnasts should take into account the combined demands of growth, intense physical activity, and maintenance and repair of muscle and tissue. Low calorie diets for gymnasts may be detrimental to their performance because the weight loss could be from loss of muscle rather than loss of fat. The loss of muscle will eventually lead to deterioration in the performance of the gymnast. High energy diet plans for gymnasts should include whole grain cereals and breads, fruits, and vegetables for the carbohydrates that give them the energy to perform and low fat meat and dairy products that help them maintain their svelte shape. Juices, skim milk and water all through the day keep them hydrated and energized. Salted crackers, nuts, energy bars, and fruit can serve as snacks.

Nutrition plans for athletes who run long distance races and cyclists who need to train their bodies for long hours of endurance during a competition should focus on loading the body with carbohydrates just prior to the events. Starting six days before the event, athletes go on a low carb diet for three days, correspondingly increasing their intake of omega 3 fatty acids and proteins to maintain their energy levels. The three days before the race they switch to a high carbohydrate diet, cutting down on fats and proteins to store the muscle glycogen that will boost their energy levels. Whatever they sport they practice, planning and devising ideas for a nutritious meal plan for athletes goes a long way towards ensuring an excellent performance.

Apart from athletes, who require a special diet owing to the nature of their activity, nutritious meals for 1 year olds, toddlers, kids, and seniors are equally necessary because they too have special needs. While nutritious meal planning for kids is necessary because they need extra energy for effective physical and mental growth and development, seniors require special foods to combat aging and age-related conditions. Often people assume that special nutrition comes at a price; however, nutritious meal plans can be designed on a low budget as well.

Submitted on January 16, 2014