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Reducing fat or building muscles – the targeting of sports nutrition is versatile and can have different effects on the body. Sports nutrition that includes a balanced combination of minerals, vitamins, and essential nutrients offers the most benefits. The individual composition of the diet in sport not only depends on the athlete themselves, but is also determined by stresses on the body and the body’s needs.1
If you tailor your diet to your profile, the correct healthy diet can support rapid progress towards results for the amateur and elite sports person alike.2 Whatever sporting ambitions you pursue, balanced meals with sufficient carbohydrates, proteins etc. can help you achieve your personal goals.
Complex carbohydrates are a key component in the relationship between sports and nutrition. They contribute to the restoration of normal muscle function (contraction) after highly intense or long-lasting physical stress, which can lead to muscle fatigue and exhaustion of glycogen stores in the muscular system. In principle, these nutrients should supply the largest proportion of the body’s energy supply and should take up 50% to 60% of meals.
During a workout, carbohydrates supply the muscles and the central nervous system. If the supply is not sufficient, mental and physical impairments can occur.3 Carbohydrates provide a better energy flow than fats and can even be stored by the body for a certain period of time so that they can be used when exposed to stress.1
Do proteins guarantee muscle building? Proteins are used for nutrition in strength-based sports and contribute to the growth and maintenance of the muscles. In addition to muscle mass, high-quality proteins can also increase muscle strength and provide a reliable source of healthy, essential amino acids. However the muscles cannot be strengthened by the absorption of proteins alone – only the combination of diet and exercise can lead to success.
The necessary intake of proteins is usually determined by the intensity of the training. Grass roots athletes often have a lower demand for proteins than performance athletes, while the body of a well-trained athlete is often able to manage their protein supply more efficiently.3
In comparison to carbohydrates and proteins, fats are of secondary importance in nutrition for athletes. In order to promote one’s own health, attention should nevertheless be paid to the presence and quality of fats in food. In particular, essential fatty acids and fat-soluble vitamins can have a positive effect. Between meals, these nutrients provide a longer-lasting feeling of satiety1 and help carbohydrates to enhance the body’s energy as well as immune function.4 To ensure a healthy diet for sports nutrition, the fat content should be balanced against the subsequent exercise.3
Minerals and vitamins complete a comprehensive sports diet and can elevate your body to the next level.1 While micronutrients should always be integrated into the diet, athletes have an increased requirement. Micronutrient deficits can lead to a loss of performance which often affects athletes who eat insufficient calories or who do not tolerate certain foods. Athletes who eat a vegan diet should also take care to include a sufficient supply of nutrients.3
A correctly balanced diet often covers the necessary minerals and vitamins. Vitamin D can be an exception in individual cases. The demand for iron can also increase depending on output and should be compensated where necessary.5 For athletes, it’s also important to keep an eye on the supply of key minerals such as magnesium.2
In order to correctly combine the level of activity and the type of diet, we need to consider what the body needs most. If you do a lot of strength training, you build up muscles. In endurance sports, you burn a lot of fat within hours. Regardless of the activity, all athletes require sufficient energy, proteins and above all, a large fluid supply in order to provide the body with all that it needs during training.1
As is so often the case when it comes to nutritional issues, it is also true in sports nutrition: There is no universal diet, as individual factors of the athlete such as age and gender, play a significant role.
If you want to practice strength sports or bodybuilding, alongside discipline, the correct sports nutrition can also be beneficial. The right diet can help you build up and define muscles during exercise. The focus is also on increasing the strength of your own body.
Proteins play a central role in this process. They provide energy and can promote muscle building in a range of different areas.6 Current findings report that the amount of protein, the type of protein and the time of intake are important for strength athletes:3
Protein quantity: The American College of Sports Medicine recommends that weight-lifting athletes ingest 1.2 to 1.7 g of protein per kg body weight daily – a protein requirement that is covered with a balanced mixed diet.
Type of protein: athletes who integrate animal products into their diet can rely on animal proteins because they have a higher content of essential amino acids than plant proteins. In addition, liquid protein sources can be more effective to support sporting goals compared to solid protein-rich foods as the body can absorb amino acids from liquid sports drinks more quickly.
Time of administration: proteins are more effective when eaten after sport than during sport. You should not start your workout on a completely empty stomach but the feeling of a full belly might limit your performance during your sporting activity.
Running, cycling or swimming — endurance sports can cost our body a few hours full of energy. Many different types of endurance sports ensure rapid burning of fat and can contribute to a healthy lifestyle.7 The success of the sport can depend on whether the body is sufficiently fuelled with carbohydrates – and thus with energy.
Endurance athletes should therefore ensure that their diet contains a high proportion of carbohydrates. In addition to carbohydrate-rich foods such as wholegrain cereals, vegetables, fruit or beans, there are also carbohydrate-electrolyte solutions that help maintain endurance performance during long endurance training.
The diet for a performance athlete is often subject to a strict nutrition plan and varies according to the current training phase of the athlete. For example, a competitive athlete can adjust hydration, vitamins and minerals a few hours before a competition depending on requirements. Intake of sufficient water is especially important in competitive sports, in order to maintain the required level of energy and to provide the body with sufficient fluid despite the perspiration.3
When choosing the right sports nutrition, you should always first consider what your body needs. Do you want to build up muscles and need proteins? Or do you burn energy on a regular basis while running and therefore carbohydrates would be a better option? An individual sports nutrition plan can help not only in achieving your goals, but also in planning weekly grocery shopping and finding recipes.
The nutrients you need as an athlete can be obtained from the following foods:
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