Tips for Athletes
If you take physical activity to the extreme—running marathons, biking for miles, or pumping serious weights at the gym—it’s best to remember that strenuous exercise puts a lot of wear and tear on your cells. There are many precautions you can take to care for your body while staying fit.
You may think a calorie is a calorie, and if you fuel your body with enough energy to burn, you are doing enough. This is simply not the case. You should make decisions about your diet based on what will keep your body functioning at peak performance. Eat a variety of foods to get the maximum nutritional benefit. How hard you push yourself will affect how much protein and carbohydrates you will need to consume. Talk to a doctor or dietician to find out what kind of diet will work best for your sport(s) and activity level. No matter what your situation, it’s a good idea to eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables of various colors to benefit from antioxidants. If you feel you still aren’t getting adequate nutrition from your diet, try vitamin and mineral supplements, but don’t think of them as a substitute for healthy meals.1 They’re called ‘supplements’ for a reason.
A carb-loading diet may seem appealing for competitive athletes, but if you are considering it, talk to your doctor about how safe or healthy this diet would be for you. What makes others successful may only make you feel sick.2
Vegetarian athletes need to pay special attention to how much protein is in their diets. If you don’t eat meat, look to a variety of legumes, whole grains, seeds, and nuts for protein. Eat foods rich in iron to ensure you don’t become iron-deficient. You don’t need meat to be a competitive athlete as long as you watch your diet and get proper nutrition.
Water is critical for anyone engaged in strenuous physical activity. Don’t skip the water bottle before, after, or during your morning run. Remember, if you feel thirsty, you’re already dehydrated. You have to replace every bit of moisture that you’re sweating out when you exercise. If you’re exercising for less than an hour at a time, water should be sufficient to replenish your body, but for longer workouts you can grab a sports drink to get some extra carbohydrates and electrolytes. Look for one with 15–18 grams of carbohydrates for every eight ounces of liquid.3
Marathon runners know their knees are especially vulnerable. If you engage in high-impact exercise and are worried about your joints, consider supplementing with glucosamine sulfate to give your body what it needs to continually replace and strengthen that important cushion of cartilage in your joints.
If you are ever injured, follow your doctor’s advice to the letter. Many hardcore athletes continue to exercise even after they are hurt, which only does their body more damage. Your doctor knows best, so don’t push yourself farther than you can safely go. Too much exercise can be a bad thing in certain situations.
1 “Fast Facts About Sports Nutrition,” The President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, http://www.fitness.gov/fastfacts.htm (accessed January 3, 2011).
2 Mayo Clinic staff, “Carbohydrate-loading diet,” MayoClinic.com, http://www.mayoclinic.com/print/carbohydrate-loading/MY00223/METHOD=print&DSECTION=all (accessed January 3, 2011).
3 “Fast Facts About Sports Nutrition,” The President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, http://www.fitness.gov/fastfacts.htm (accessed January 3, 2011).