Sports nutrition is a very important part of an athletes' training regiment. Unfortunately most athletes, especially young athletes, think quantity is the answer to improving performance. So many athletes invest in their training by increasing calories (many unhealthy) while mortgaging their performance and long-term health (increasing their fat mass).
True, when an athlete trains there is a possible need for extra calories to help facilitate the effects from training. However most athletes go well beyond their caloric need and consume too many calories. More times than not, athletes consume foods from unhealthy source like fast food or take in large quantities of calories from protein supplements through shakes, pills and / or bars. Athletes consume these extra calories, thinking the added consumptions will increase strength and produce productive weight gains. Most of these extra calories are converted to fat – fat weight is not productive. Regardless of the form of food / substrate intake, if the calories go beyond that which is truly required by the body, those calories will be convert to triglycerides in the liver and stored as fat. This storage of non-productive mass takes away form athletic performance (especially in hockey, basketball, volleyball, track, and many positions in football) by causing premature fatigue and decreased acceleration / explosiveness.
There has been controversy over the years in the sports community on how much nutritional supplementation is needed to enhance athletic performance. Overwhelmingly, the answer keeps coming back as NOT MUCH, IF ANY. Because sport nutrition is such a comprehensive and complex area of study, and because it goes way beyond the scope this program, I am just going to lie out some very simple nutritional guidelines. These recommendations will be more than adequate in complimenting your conditioning program.
Since most of my career has been working in cardiology as therapist and lifestyle management counselor, I will recommend eating for your health !!! Heart disease is a condition that starts in early childhood, mainly because children learn sedentary lifestyle and poor eating habits. Getting young people into sports, of any kind, is very positive. The last thing a parent should do is teach and reinforce poor eating habits simply because they are under the false impression that a high calorie diet, usually coming from higher levels of fat, will help improve athletic performance. The pinnacle of human performance is athletic competition. Remember, when you eat for optimal health you'll achieve optimal human performance for the hockey season and the REST OF YOUR LIFE.
Dietary breakdown comes in three general categories; macronutrients- carbohydrate, protein and fats; micronutrients – vitamins and minerals and water.
Macronutrients Carbohydrate, Protein and Fat
Carbohydrates are divided into three categories: Monosaccarides, oligosaccharides and Polysaccharides. Carbohydrates make up most of our diet and are the main energy fuel used by the body. Besides being the main energy sources, carbohydrates also function as a protein sparer, metabolic primer and provide fuel for the central nervous system. Carbohydrates are stored in the body in the form of blood glucose (15-30g), liver (90 -100g) and muscle glycogen (325g). In sports like hockey where an athlete works in very short durations at an extremely high intensity, almost 100 percent of his / her energy is derived from carbohydrates and 30-40% from blood glucose.
Most of our diet should come in the form of carbohydrate, (60%) with the majority coming in the complex variety. In the complex form, the fibrous portion has not been removed, providing numerous health benefits and better regulation of blood sugars. For an athlete, consuming simple sugars (candy, juice, soda) 30 minutes prior to an event can hinder athletic performance by dramatically lowering blood sugars and depleting glycogen stores. Water is the preferred intake just prior to the start of the event.
During a game, water is the most needed supplement. Dehydration will quickly dissolve performance and place and athlete at risk for a heat related injury. Certain carbohydrate drinks are recommended for athletic competition that is extremely intense (hockey, soccer or football) or long duration (marathon). Controversy exists regarding the amount of sugar concentration. Higher concentration can lead to a lower osmolality (the rate of water absorption), resulting in dehydration, cramping, and diarrhea. The timing of ingestion and the concentration of solution are key for any benefit. Following the first 30 minutes of activity a concentration up to 50% is recommended (70g / 140ml) then 5% solution (24g / 8 oz) over 30 minutes intervals. For younger children playing in games less than or up to one-hour actual time, cold water is best.
Following practice or game, an athlete should consume a more simple, yet healthy, carbohydrate within 2 hours of completion. A beverage like orange juice will provide replenishment of glycogen stores, electrolytes (potassium and calcium) and fluids. Sports drinks are not necessary and soda provides almost no benefit. Remember caffeine is a diuretic and found in most soft drink. This will increase dehydration and contribute to premature fatigue. This is very important during weekend tournaments when there are many games in a very short time span – even two games in one day.
Fat is categorized into two major groups, saturated and unsaturated. Unsaturated fats are further categorized into monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. Fats serve many important functions in the body. Like carbohydrates, fats are a protein sparer. Fat also is needed to protect organs, help with vitamin absorption, vitamin D synthesis, production of adrenal gland hormones like estrogen, androgen, progesterone – which are responsible for male and female secondary sex characteristics. Fats also play a role in bile formation for fat breakdown, thermal regulation in the cold, nerve sheath and other cellular membrane development and blood clotting. Besides Linoleic acid, an essential fatty acid (meaning it must be consumed in the diet because it can not be produce in the body) we can produce all the fat needed for cellular function and life by consuming small amounts in the diet. A typical American's diet consists of 45% fat, most in the form of saturated fat. This unfortunately leads to obesity, type II diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, certain cancers, coronary heart disease and decreased human and athletic performance. The American Heart Association recommends no more than 30% of daily calories coming from fat; but for athletes like hockey players, that require a very lean body, 20% is ideal.
Proteins are made up of chains of amino acids. They are well known for their function of muscle builders and tissue repair. Proteins also function as enzymes to help speed up chemical reactions, plasma protein for blood clotting, and hemoglobin for oxygen transport. Protein in the form of actin and myosin is what makes movement possible through muscle contraction. Protein can be used for energy, especially in the absences of adequate carbohydrate and in moderate to intense exercise. Most, if not all, people get more than enough protein in their diet. Therefore, supplementing protein is not always necessary. Not only is consuming more protein not necessary if your not and adolescence whom is working out or playing a high intensity sport, consuming the extra calories will result in increase fat mass. To add insult to injury, most forms of high quality protein come in the form of animal products. These products containing high quantities of saturated fat.
The proteins you do choose should be a selection of a variety of sources, particularly plant. Normally men should consume about.8 grams / kg of body weight. (Simply divide your weight in pounds by 2.2 to get kg), women need.9g / kg. Some research suggested protein in certain athletes, especially those involved with high intensity sport like weight lifting, could increase the recommended amount up to 1.2 to 2.0 g / kg of body weight. However, because most American's already consume more than the RDA suggest, the need for supplements still marginally exist. If extra protein is necessary, egg whites sit on top of the list for a high quality, low fat supplement. A recent Canadian research paper discovered that the body can only synthesize 20g of protein an hour and that this rate of synthesis could only be maintained for up to 4 hours. The source of protein showing the best results was skim milk. So I recommend my athletes' drink 4, 12oz glasses of milk over four hours.
Summary of Macronutrients
When glycogen stores become depleted, fatigue sits in and technique and performance suffer. Through a well balanced diet and training, glycogen stores can increase 3 fold. Even with this increase, muscles do not have the luxury of borrowing glycogen from non-participating muscles. Only the liver can sacrifice its glycogen stores, which also has only limited storage. This too can deplete quickly and limit an athlete in times a great intensity or extended duration. However, stored fat in the body has more than twice the caloric value as stored carbohydrate and can be mobilized from other areas. When an athlete trains specifically for their sport, their body learns to become more efficient at preserving glycogen by tapping into the caloric dense fat stores. The more the athlete trains the faster and more efficient this changeover occurs. Not to seem contradicting to my earlier statement regarding fat, extra fat is not needed. 1 pound of fat can provide enough energy for a 35 miles walk. Fat-stores a lean athlete already possesses are adequate to sustain him in times of great energy demands.
Vitamins and minerals are not considered as an energy source. Vitamins serve as an essential link in metabolic reactions, facilitate energy release, and are important in bone and teeth synthesis. Vitamins can be used repeatedly in the body so the need for supplement does not exist.
Minerals are made up of 22 mostly metallic elements (about 4% body weight). Minerals regulate many functions in the body: Metabolism, anabolism, catabolism, structural (bones and teeth) and cellular activity and nerve impulses (sodium, calcium, potassium and magnesium). Under normal condition a well balance diet will provide the RDA for minerals. During prolong and or high intensity activity, athletes can lose anywhere from 1 to 5 kg (3-12 pounds) of water as a result of sweating. This can lead to the loss on mineral salts, primarily sodium and some potassium chloride. This loss of water and electrolytes impairs heat tolerance and hinders exercise performance and can lead to severe dysfunction in the form of heat cramps, heat exhaustion or heat stroke.
Water makes up 40-60% of a persons body weight. Water constitutes 65-75% of the weight of muscle and less than 25% of the weight in fat. Even though water does not contribute to nutritional value of foods, it is the way all nutrients, vitamins and minerals are transported in the body. The two main water compartments in the body are intracellular and extracellular fluids. These fluids serve as the body's transport and active medium by bringing essential nutrient and gases to the cell while carrying away all waste byproducts for elimination. Each day a sedentary person will require 2.5 liters of water. This water requirement will be met through the ingestion of liquids, foods and during metabolism.
For athletes during an event, water's main purpose is to replace the water lost in sweat. Water replacement allows the body's thermal regulator to continue functioning normally. By maintaining hydration, athletes will be better able to perform and avoid the dangerous effects from increased core body temperature, which can lead to premature fatigue. The body will redirect blood to the skin surface and away from the working muscles – this results in dramatic drop in an athlete's performance.
Recommendation for water ingestion 10 to 20 minutes prior to an athletic event should equal 400 to 600 ml. During the event, 250 ml at 10 to15 minute intervals is recommended. Athletes can loose up to 2 liters of water per hour in sweat, while only absorbing 800 ml per hour. Watching an athlete for symptoms during an event in hot, humid weather is very important. Young athletes have an immature thermal regulator and thus do not tolerate heat well. Keeping children well hydrated and under constant supervision and surveillance is a must.
Most nutritional needs can be met through a well balanced diet. Even with all the sports nutrition research, athletes still buy into the fast cash schemes claiming that athletic perfection will not be reach unless their product is used. It's simply not true and not supported by current research.
Pre game / practice meals are as important as any other topic I have discussed. But again, no special plan or super dietary foods are needed. Hockey players are physically challenged every time they go on the ice; and because of this, a healthy carbohydrate laden diet needs to be the everyday staple.
On the day of a game, the heavy meal should come approximately 3 to 6 hours before game time. This should be filled with foods like whole grain pastas, vegetables, skim milk, whole grain breads, and fruit or fruit juice. If a heavy meal is eaten greater than 4 hours prior to the game, a lighter snack, like fruit juice or yogurt, is recommended 2-3 hours prior to game time. Remember, no simple carbohydrates 30 minutes – 1 hour prior to a game – only water !!
High fat and protein meals actually hinder performance (steak and other meats, and fast foods). These foods digest more slowly (meaning less available energy because undigested food can not contribute), requires more energy to digest (taking away from energy that could be used in the game), increases metabolic heat (requiring the body to work harder to cool itself while putting an athlete at a great danger in high temperature, high humidity conditions), and depletes water stores – adding to heat stress (byproducts of amino acid (protein) break down demands water for urinary excretion).
A pre game meal can not correct deficiencies that result from weeks of inadequate nutrition. Eating healthy everyday will prevent deficiencies that could hinder performance.