A healthy diet, including the proper amount of macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates and fat), micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) and fluids is critical for growth and optimal performance in sports. It is also important to learn how and when to eat to fuel the body before, during and after an event.
Optimal sports nutrition is a multifactorial process that is influenced by many factors, including physical activity, training intensity, environmental conditions and genetics. The sport nutrition concept is continually evolving to include new methods, perspectives and approaches for enhancing athlete performance and health.
Carbohydrates are the primary energy source for working muscle tissue and other tissues involved in athletic performance. One gram of carbohydrate provides four kilocalories of energy. When eaten regularly, these carbohydrates are converted to glycogen, which is stored in the muscles and liver as the body’s main energy source during exercise. Typically, athletes should consume 45% to 65% of their calories from carbohydrates (2).
Before a competition, it is recommended that an athlete eat a high-carbohydrate meal, such as a bread or cereal with milk, fruit, granola bar or other easily digested food. Depending on the time of day and the competition, it may also be beneficial to eat a precompetition snack.
For most sporting events, it is not necessary to eat during the competition. However, for long-duration or high-intensity activities, it is recommended that a athlete consume some carbohydrate in the first half hour after exercise to replace glycogen stores and promote faster recovery (3). Suitable choices include sports drinks, juices, a sandwich or bagel with peanut butter and jelly, granola bars or low-fat flavoured milk.