Whole food nutrition is an integral part of an athlete’s success. Sadly, most athletes treat nutrition as an afterthought.  Unfortunately, there are many misconceptions regarding nutrition and athletic performance due to a lack of understanding. Today, we are going to try and clear up some of those misconceptions and discuss why proper nutrition is key for athletes.

One misconception is that nutrition does not play an important role in injury recovery and prevention. This is a completely myth, proper nutrition can help the body to heal correctly and quickly. One of the reasons nutrition quickens recovery time is due to the nutrients inside whole foods, such as vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Whole foods also contain nutrients such as omega-3-fatty-acids that help to fight inflammation within the body which is key during injury recovery.

Whole foods should be consumed over supplements at all times but especially during injury recovery due to their beneficial synergistic and medicinal effects. When whole foods are consumed in adequate amounts and at the same time, they are broken down in the body in much more effective way than powders and supplements. You see, nutrient synergy is when two or more different nutrients work together to produce an effect that you could not get from either nutrient alone. So, the body is able to use the nutrients from whole foods we consume to help us absorb our food better or be more effective at promoting health than eating one food alone, so that is why whole foods should be consumed together.

When you’re injured, your body naturally requires more calories to heal. For example, an athlete who might require 2,000 kcal during a typical day with no exercise could see their energy requirements shoot up to 2,400 kcal after even a minor surgery. An athlete’s metabolic rate increases approximately 15 percent to 20 percent after injury or minor surgery. A major surgery can increase these needs by almost 50 percent.

To start the injury healing process, you should consume more protein. An injured athlete should aim for 1.5 to 2.0 g/kg body weight. They need to consume protein consistently AND distribute it evenly throughout the day at 20 to 30 g per meal or snack. And if you’re wondering what a food portion of 20 to 30 g of protein looks like? Consider these options the next time you need to pack on the protein:

  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup cottage cheese
  • 1 cup Greek yogurt
  • 3 to 4 oz of meat, poultry, or fish
  • 2/3 of a 14-oz cake of firm tofu
  • 25 cups of black beans

When taking this all in, remember not to back-load all of your protein at dinner.

Let’s not forget about branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs). Branched-chain amino acids are a group of three essential amino acids: leucine, isoleucine and valine. They are essential, meaning they can't be produced by your body and must be obtained from food. BCAA supplements have been shown to build muscle, decrease muscle fatigue and alleviate muscle soreness. Additionally, BCAAs have shown to be effective at:

  • Boosting musculoskeletal health
  • Increasing protein synthesis
  • Inhibiting protein breakdown

Consider foods like chicken breast, lean beef, tuna, salmon, turkey breast, eggs, and peanuts to get your BCAAs.

In part 2 of this post, we will cover the second and equally important macronutrient in supporting injury healing and recovery – carbohydrates. Stay tuned.

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