Sports and Food: what you need to know

Physical activity is as important as healthy food. People who work out try out different foods to improve their performance. There are many supplements and specific sports nutrition products on the market. But what kind of food is important during exercise? And are there any studies that prove the effects of supplements? Here are some facts and pieces of advice about food that will fit well with physical activity.

Athlete nutrition is classified into three categories: food supplements, specific sport foods (such as special drinks, shakes and energy bars) and the (basic) daily diet.

There are different types of supplements on the market: vitamins, minerals, proteins, carbohydrates and many more. Weight loss supplements are also available. All these kinds of supplements are used in the world of sports.

There are many studies on the effects of different supplements. Research shows that supplements have little beneficial effects when they are not used correctly.

The supplements that are commonly used and whose effects have been proven are:

  • caffeine: improves performance, except in short high-intensity exercise.
  • creatine: improves performance in single and repeated sprint bouts and improves the recovery between bouts.
  • phosphate salts: improve performance in activities of one hour or shorter.

Make sure that you use them correctly and safely!

Specific sport foods can have more useful effects than supplements. Those include drinks that are rich in carbohydrates. These drinks can be used during physical activity of at least 45 minutes, in order to improve endurance. You can also stimulate the protein buildup by adding proteins (like protein powders) to carbohydrate-rich drinks!

The drinks are not useful when you are doing low-intensity exercise shorter than 45 minutes. I know that after ten pushups you may feel like there is no glucose in your muscles anymore. Then you mistakenly decide to drink an entire bottle of some sort of sugar-bomb drink, hoping you can replenish your muscles with glucose like that. But you are actually taking in more energy than you actually need!

Eating food rich in carbohydrates before exercising will improve your performance. I usually eat a banana before an exercise, and after the exercise I drink plenty of water to make sure I stay hydrated.

The most important thing in the diet of an athlete is the (basic) daily diet. Several researchers have shown that an optimal daily diet can significantly improve physical performance!

The basic diet of an athlete should include: fruits and vegetables, low-saturated fat (like chips, meat, butter, etc.). Variation in this is key. A basic diet delivers the required energy, the ‘building materials’, vitamins and minerals necessary for activities, building and recovery.

You may also want to match your diet as closely as possible with the sport that you practice. This depends on certain factors such as the type of sport and the energy you need every day. Endurance athletes or bodybuilders will use vitamin and mineral supplements, because they require a high energy intake. You will not need any supplements when you are not doing any above-average activities or when you have a regular diet. When your diet is optimal, you will get a lot out of that already!

Written by Gulsah Kayar

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Gulsah Kayar, 23 years old and Nutrition & Dietetics student. She loves baking, travelling with her friends and playing sports.