What’s the Difference Between Sports Nutrition and General Nutrition?
By Dana Ryan, Ph.D., M.A. - Director, Sports Performance and Education
There seems to be a misconception that sports nutrition is only for elite athletes. Granted, elite athletes train hard and their nutritional demands are very high, but sports nutrition is based on a solid general nutrition foundation which can be applied to anyone: young, old, athletic or sedentary. It’s important to remember that you can turn almost any ordinary task into your daily workout.
General nutrition calls for:
- Consuming a certain number of calories in order to sustain vital bodily functions, which is determined by the person’s unique physical makeup and his/her nutritional and fitness goals
- Ensuring calories are composed of the right amount of macronutrients:
- Ensuring proper hydration. This is crucial in order for the body to function properly. Women should drink at least nine cups of water per day, while men should drink at least thirteen cups. Of course, during any strenuous activity, you’ll need to replenish the additional fluids lost. Adding electrolytes to your diet (sodium, potassium, magnesium, calcium) helps replace these vital nutrients
Athletes typically consume a greater number of calories than non-athletes to satisfy their physically active lifestyle. These great bursts of power call for additional hydration as well as energy replacement, primarily in the form of carbohydrates and fats to replace the body’s glycogen, and for protein to feed, grow and maintain muscle mass.*
Timing Your Meals
The timing of meals is absolutely crucial for athletes of any level. It’s not just what they eat, but when they eat that is important. Their training regimen may require them to eat certain types of macronutrients several more times a day than someone who is not in training.
Follow this simple advice in order to get the most out of physical activity.
Carbohydrates are what fuel a workout. Think of them as gas for your car. You should consume carbs within 30-45 minutes of intense physical activity. They’re easily digestible and convert to glucose quickly for use as fuel. Additionally, many athletes also prefer a pre-workout supplement with ingredients such as caffeine, creatine and nitric oxide precursors.
During a Workout
During a light to moderate workout, you should drink water, at the very least, and add electrolytes if you need the extra boost. Electrolytes can replace valuable nutrients such as sodium, potassium, magnesium and calcium, which are lost by sweat.
In a moderate to vigorous workout, you should consider adding carbohydrates to your electrolytes. This combination will not only replace those valuable nutrients, but will continuously supply your muscles with the glucose required to maintain your performance.
It is important to feed your muscles after a workout. Typically you want to consume good quality calories within 30-45 minutes after a workout to reap the maximum benefit. Having said that even if you don’t get calories in during that time it doesn’t mean you should skip a post-workout meal or shake. Consume between 20 and 40 grams of high-quality protein. The protein can come from whole foods such as chicken or fish; however, many people don’t like eating right after a hard workout so a protein shake is a good solution. A post-workout shake can come from dairy (whey or casein) protein or from plant based sources like soy. Protein rebuilds muscles and ultimately helps to increase lean muscle mass.
Eat to Lose Weight
Some people who are trying to lose weight think that if they skip a meal after their workout, they’ll drop the weight quicker. Nothing could be further from the truth. As mentioned before, you have to rebuild your muscles with good quality protein after stressing them with exercise. Otherwise, all the hard work you put into your workout could have been for nothing. Rather than increase your lean muscle mass, depriving your body of much needed protein for your muscles could actually result in the loss of lean muscle.
Make sure you build in a rest day. While you may be consuming adequate nutrients every day, if you are constantly pushing your body to the limit, it won’t have time to really recover and build lean muscle mass unless you give it rest. Have at least one rest day a week built into your schedule.
Remember, sports nutrition isn’t just for elite-level athletes anymore. Your workouts aren’t necessarily confined to the gym, the track, or the practice field. If you elevate your heart rate during any activity, then congratulations – you’re an athlete. It doesn’t matter if you’re shooting hoops in the driveway, taking a brisk walk, or just doing some yard work. Follow the tips above to find, and unleash, your inner athlete.