Whenever I am asked what food should athletes eat for a specific sport, what comes into mind are optimum nutrition and practical nutrition.
When we say optimum nutrition, these are the types of food, hydration, and even supplements that will give the right amount of energy, and recovery nutrition for athletes to promote performance and to achieve their nutritional goals.
When we say optimum eating for athletes, the first thing that we need to consider is the amount of calories that athletes should be consuming. This takes into account their basal metabolism or the amount of calories burned just to sustain life. Second is calories burned during exercise. And for young athletes, the third factor that must be considered is the amount of calories needed to support growth and development.
An optimum nutrition program should be able to meet the macro nutrient requirement of the athletes. These are your carbohydrates, proteins and fats. So it’s just not calories that we are talking about here. Yes you may have been able to meet your energy requirements thru the foods you consumed, but were you able to meet the correct percentage of carbs, proteins and fats so that it will be able to fuel you in the specific sport you are in? Because it’s not just about the energy that you eat or consume, but also the kind of calories that you consume on a day to day basis. Such that, the specific fuel your sports need, whether it requires a higher or lower percentage of carbs, will be adequately met by your nutrition program. Only then can we say that your nutrition program is optimum. It’s not just about the actual amount of food intake. The macronutrient distribution should also be right especially the amount of protein given to the athlete. It is important to note that a lot of Filipino athletes don’t consume enough proteins.
"An optimum nutrition program should be able to meet the macro nutrient requirement of the athletes. These are your carbohydrates, proteins and fats. So it’s just not calories that we are talking about here."
Optimum nutrition should also aid in improving and/or achieving desired performance. Example: what is the goal of the athlete? To get stronger? To gain power? To gain strength? Or does he need endurance because he is involved in an endurance sport like triathlon and ultramarathon? Or do they need to make a certain weight because they are in a combat or weight class sport? We have to remember that weight class sports are not only limited to combat sports like Hidilyn Diaz of weightlifting and athletes of lightweight rowing. These athletes need to make weight prior their actual competition. Or do these athletes need to gain more muscles? All of these must be considered in order for a nutrition program to be called optimum.
Another factor that must be considered is of course the practicality of the nutrition advise. The nutrition advise should be something that is really doable and sustainable. Doable in a sense that yes you are able to do it now because you are committed. But is it really something that you can sustain for a longer period of time or let’s say you make it a habit already and make it part of your lifestyle? For me personally as a nutrition coach, it’s not only your current goals I strive to work at and help you achieve. I also want to be able to help you in our short time together that I handled you as an athlete thru the information, thru the education that I have imparted and probably in the lifestyle changes or habit changes throughout your lifetime serving as an athlete. Because ultimately what I’m after for is longevity of the career of the athlete or up until when can we maximize your athletic career and maintain your overall health. That would be a great achievement for me.
"The nutrition advise should be something that is really doable and sustainable for a longer period of time and a part of your lifestyle"
Another issue of practicality of the nutrition program is of course aside from it being doable or sustainable, a big factor would be is who should be preparing the food? Is it the athlete? Is someone helping the athlete? Or does that athlete have the means to prepare? I’m talking about the athletes who live in dorms who doesn’t have the means to cook their own food. Of course budget needs to considered. What is the extent of the budget that the athlete can spend? So all of this need to be considered.
So again, when it comes to proper fueling strategies for athletes, there are 2 things that must be considered. It has to be optimum and has to be practical.