Pure Athletic Fuel
An athlete's diet must include foods particularly suited for the athlete's sport. This has been an area of great study in recent years. Researchers are creating diets that provide athletes with the foods that contain high levels of the nutrients needed for each particular sport. For an athlete to have proper nutrition in sports, one must have knowledge of the six classes of nutrients and the four basic food groups. The six classes of nutrients are water, vitamins, minerals, fats, carbohydrates, and proteins. Each class plays a different role in the energy cycle of the body.
Water is essential. An adult male body weight
is about 60 percent water. The average person needs two and a half liters of water a day. It is also known that a person's water mass is replaced every 11 to 13 days under light physical activity (Smith 91). With these facts in mind, it is understandable why an athlete, who undergoes heavy physical exertion, has an extreme need for large quantities of water. This water comes from the intake of all fluids and food during a day.
Vitamins are needed in small amounts. It was the last class to be discovered. It is divided in to fat-soluble and water-soluble groups of vitamins. Vitamins help regulate body functions and are not a direct source of energy. Vitamins are needed in such small quantities that a person's natural diet will provide most of the necessary amounts (Smith 5-7).
The third class is minerals. This class is divided into the minerals needed in large amounts
and the minerals needed in small amounts. The minerals needed in larger quantities include sodium, calcium, potassium, magnesium, sulfur, phosphorus, and various chlorides. Sodium is needed in extremely large amounts for very active athletes
. This is because a person's sweat contains sodium; profuse sweating will cause a large drop in the sodium level of the body. Potassium is directly associated with muscle cells and muscle fatigue. It affects the amount of water a person's body will hold. The other large-amount needed minerals provide for an athlete but have no direct effect on an athlete's performance. The trace minerals number about fourteen. Two trace minerals of concern are zinc and iron. Zinc helps repair tissues and provides for growth. Iron is the largest of these minerals and is important in the energy metabolism in body cells (Smith 5).
Fats provide the largest source of energy. They contain about twice as many calories per unit than proteins or carbohydrates. This means that fats can provide the largest amount of energy in the least amount of food. One setback is these are the nutrients that take the longest to digest.
Carbohydrates are the best source of food energy. These are broken down into a substance called glucose. This simple sugar provides short-term energy benefits where as fats provide a long-term energy. The body cannot store large amounts of energy in the form of carbohydrates. As such, carbohydrate intake for an athlete is advised to be spread out over the course of a day. This is the class of nutrients that bread, spaghetti, and pancakes fall under (Smith 15). The understanding that pasta is good for an athlete stems from this scientific data.
Proteins are the last class of nutrients. The need for these does not change dramatically with an increase in athletic activity. Proteins are needed in body tissues and have an effect in the growth and repair of the body (Smith 16).
A healthy diet will include the four major food groups. These groups are milk, meat and high-protein fibers, fruits and vegetables, and cereal and grain foods. Each group provides different nutrients to an athlete's body.
The milk group is a rich source of calcium. This is needed in the formation of one's body and bones. As such, it is important in one's growing years. Too much milk provides an athlete with an excess of animal fat, which has a negative effect in large quantities. It is recommended that a person have two servings per day.
Two servings of the meat and high-protein group daily provide adequate nutrients. This group tends to have high levels of saturated fats, which are fats that take longer to digest due to their complex structure. This is why athletes need to watch their intake of red meats and saturated fats.
Four servings are recommended for both the fruit and vegetable group and the grain group. Fruits and vegetables contain few calories and can be consumed in large quantities for their source of vitamins and nutrients. The grain group is where an athlete's main source of carbohydrates comes from. Proteins, minerals, and vitamins are found in these foods, but an athlete's high energy needs are fulfilled by the large carbohydrate content (Smith 30).
The physical exertion required to participate in sports requires an adequate source of energy. This energy comes from the food one consumes. It is recommended to eat well-balanced meals before physical activities. An extra serving of a certain food group is advised for participation in different sports. During the actual physical activity, an athlete sweats and loses large amounts of water and salt. An athlete should replenish these losses during the activity and afterwards. During the activity, water should be consumed in small amounts at regular intervals. Afterwards, an athlete may drink large amounts of water to help replenish the body's water. Also, salt should be consumed to help replenish the salt lost in sweat.
Basketball is an example of a sport that requires an extended period of physical exertion. This causes large amounts of energy to be consumed and large amounts of sweat to be lost from the athlete's body. In the past, a common meal around 2 p.m. for a night game allowed a basketball player to feel energetic during his game. Nowadays, players have become taller and larger. They require a greater amount of energy than players in the past. Players today can run faster, jump higher, and are stronger than previous players. This accounts for the extra energy needed by today's players. The 2 p.m. meal can still be eaten, but a snack closer to game time is advised. This allows the athlete to enter competition well equipped for a physically exhausting event. This snack can include water, but a liquid meal is recommended for pregame meals. This liquid meal provides energy, hydration, some fat and some protein. This allows the athlete to enter the competition feeling energetic, hydrated, and that one's hunger has been satiated. These meals leave the stomach quickly, so they can be taken closer to game time (Smith 120).
A proper diet for a basketball player would be one with multiple meals. This would produce a well-balanced diet everyday, which is needed by athletes. Large amounts of water should be consumed to help combat the loss of sweat during a physical activity. All general nutrient levels should be maintained. Each nutrient provides an athlete's body with a necessary substance. Without proper levels of these nutrients, one may be unable to recover properly from a physical event, such as a basketball game. With starting time approaching, carbohydrates would be recommended for their easy and relatively quick transformation into energy that the body can use.
Smith, Nathan J.. Food for Sport. Palo Alto: Bull Publishing Company, 1976.