Sports Nutrition Guide: Gaining an Understanding of the Field

Ever wonder about the various fields you could work in if you were to pursue a nutrition degree or certification? The extent of your options is much larger than you imagined. You could apply to work in hospitals or home care settings, work within the community or education system, become a wellness coach at gyms or businesses, and even become a food service manager. But one field that has started to gain much attention over the last decade is sports nutrition.

What makes sports nutrition different than other fields of nutrition? Well, sports nutrition is the study and practice of nutrition and diet with regards to improving anyone’s athletic performance. The specific focus on enhancing performance through diet is what separates sports nutrition from other fields.

However, diet is only one small component that makes up the umbrella of sports nutrition. Having a thorough understanding of human physiology and metabolism, sports science, exercise physiology, sports psychology, supplements, and a basic understanding of sports themselves is vital to becoming a successful sports nutritionist.

Sports Nutrition is such an important facet of performance that NASM made a course on the subject. Check out the

Sports Nutrition is such an important facet of performance that NASM made a course on the subject. Check out the Sports Nutrition Coach course page here. 

THE KEYS TO FUELING ATHLETES

Combining your understanding of metabolism, energy systems, and diet is going to be the first step in creating programs that can enhance someone’s athletic performance. Starting with the basics, let’s review general recommendations and uses for carbohydrates, proteins, and fats.

Carbohydrates are the body’s preferred fuel source for energy, especially red blood cells and the brain. Regarding metabolic pathways, carbohydrates are the quickest to break down and convert to ATP (Hence why they are the preferred energy source). General recommendations for carbohydrates are broken down into two categories: endurance and strength.

Training for endurance athletes is often very high volume and high intensity, and this often requires higher caloric and carbohydrate needs. It is recommended that endurance-based athletes consume 7-13g/kg/day of carbohydrates. While strength athletes also engage in intense exercise, their volume is significantly less than that of an endurance athlete. Therefore, carbohydrate recommendations are between 5-8g/kg/day for strength-based athletes.

Protein is considered the king of macronutrients in the sports nutrition world. Why? Because it is ESSENTIAL for muscle recovery. While this macronutrient doesn’t deliver high energy output, meaning the body doesn’t prefer to use it as an energy substrate, it is vital for building and repairing muscle tissues and maintaining the immune system. Protein recommendations for endurance athletes are between 1.5-2g/kg/day, while strength athletes have slightly higher needs of 1.7-2.2g/kg/day.

Fats are needed to deliver essential vitamins and nutrients, fight inflammation, and support healthy hormone function. Of all the macronutrients, fat recommendations are very similar between endurance and strength-based athletes (~1.5-2g/kg/day). Fat recommendations may be slightly higher for endurance-based athletes if they have very high caloric demands.

The fundamentals of general recommendations are not what makes sports nutrition unique… The utilization of these different macronutrients at specific times is one of the biggest hallmarks of sports nutrition. In the field, we call this nutrient timing. Nutrient timing is delivering specific nutrients during specific windows to significantly enhance athletic performance and promote a quick recovery.

Some basic strategic fueling guidelines are as follows:

• 30-60 minutes before exercise consume at least 30-50g carbohydrates + 5-10g protein

• Endurance-based athletes should consume ~1g/kg of high glycemic carbohydrates 30-60 minutes before exercise and competition.

• If exercise exceeds 90 minutes, consume about 30-60g of simple carbohydrates in a carbohydrate/electrolyte solution every 10-15 minutes throughout the exercise bout.

• Post-exercise consumes ~1g/kg of carbohydrates + 0.5g/kg of protein within 30 minutes – 2 hours to maximize recovery.

WHAT ABOUT HYDRATION?

Yes, hydration is also another key component to sports nutrition since you will be dealing with highly active individuals. And what happens when we are active? We sweat! Losing just 2% of your body weight in fluids can lead to a significant decrease in aerobic performance. Therefore, ensuring adequate fluid consumption for athletes and active individuals is very important.

If exercise is 60 minutes are less, water alone will be an adequate hydrator. Once exercise begins to exceed 60 minutes or is taking place in a very hot/humid environment, the addition of electrolytes will be needed to replace those lost in sweat. Electrolytes are responsible for maintaining fluid balance and are essential for normal muscle contractions. Losing electrolytes in excess is what leads to early fatigue and cramping. Therefore, consuming electrolyte beverages during exercise for greater than one hour can enhance performance.

Since enhancement in performance is the name of the game in sports nutrition, being very well versed in the field of supplements is crucial. This is one of the most widely asked topics, so understanding which supplements have merit vs which do not is key to providing your clients with helpful information.

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