Sports Nutrition: The Compromised Athlete
by Ms. Mergynette Mercado
Nutritionist-Dietitian, Aegle Wellness Center
Muhammad Ali. Kareem Abdul Jabbar. Scott Hamilton. Martina Navratilova. Hank Gathers. Different individuals, world-renowned in different sports. Together, they have something in common that is beyond fame and fortune: all of them have battled a disease throughout their athletic career. They were compromised athletes.
Like them, nothing should stop you in achieving your health and athletic goals. A well-designed, personalized therapeutic diet to support medical management of any acquired sickness, synchronized with the physical performance required, is a cornerstone of a well-planned and sustainable training program that is part of every successful athletic career.
Sports nutrition is a vital tool in ensuring that an athlete receives the right amount of nutrients and energy he or she needs to maximize sports performance. An excessive or insufficient intake of nutrients may impair athletic performance and even affect the overall health of the athlete. For example, to avoid hypoglycaemia, or low blood sugar, in athletes with Type 1 diabetes, a carbohydrate-rich meal should be given 1 to 3 hours prior to the activity with the insulin dose being reduced. During the exercise, at least 40 grams of glucose per hour should be ingested while taking into consideration the insulin dose. During training, and more importantly during recovery, carbohydrates should always be available. The main goal is to provide an individualized diet that can match the athlete’s response to insulin and activity level.
The recommendations for carbohydrate intake may vary. It’s important to consider that carbohydrate intake should be individualized to the athlete’s needs, based on the type of sport, training cycles, and changes in exercise intensity, gender, age and anthropometric measurements. Selecting from low-glycemic and high-glycemic index carbohydrates also needs careful planning.
Recommendations for protein intake typically range from 1.2-2.0 g/kg of body weight per day and focus more on high-quality sources that can be obtained from food. This requirement increases as the type of training program intensifies. Adequate energy is needed to optimize protein metabolism. When energy availability is minimized to reduce weight or body fat, higher protein intakes are needed to support muscle protein synthesis and fat-free mass retention.
For dietary fat intake, 20% to 35% of total energy requirement is the typical range. Consuming less than 20% of energy intake from fat does not benefit performance, while extreme restriction of fat intake may limit the food range needed to meet overall health and performance goals.
Lastly, hydration must also be considered. Water is one of the most important nutrients for athletes. A 9%-12% of water loss from total body weight can be fatal. With strenuous exercise, the body can lose up to two liters of water per hour. With just 3% water loss from body weight, a consequent depressed level of performance can be experienced which can undo the benefits of training. Fluid needs before, during and after exercise must be well addressed. In general, plan to drink 1 liter of water for every 1,000 calories consumed, or 1 oz of fluid per kilogram of body weight.
An athlete’s diet should vary from “training days,” which can range from easy workouts to high intensity/strenuous workouts, to “tournament or competition days” until “recovery period.” As such, an athlete’s nutrition goals and requirements are never static. The diet should provide nutrition support and avoid risks of injury in order to keep up with the demands of the sports and disease management. It is also important to prevent negative energy balance to avoid consequences like reduced basal metabolic rate, poor hormonal function, loss of muscle mass, menstrual dysfunction in women, compromised immunity, increase risk to fatigue, and prolonged recovery process.
Whatever the health condition of the athlete may be, three key factors must be considered in one’s diet. Firstly, it must be liberal, such that normal body requirements are generously met. Secondly, it must be simple, such that it does not vary too much from the athlete’s usual diet. Lastly, it must beindividualized. Each person is unique. There is no such thing as a universal diet that fits everyone’s personal needs.
Ms. Mercado specializes in nutritional counseling and customized nutrition program development. She provides a practical approach to diet-related health matters, including weight management, food allergies and food sensitivity management, athletic performance enhancement, and disease management. She also focuses on food quality and quantity improvement, eliminating nutritional deficiencies, developing healthy recipes, and calculating food’s nutrition content. She advocates for nutritional awareness and mindfulness in addressing factors that affect one's overall health.
She believes and practices a client-centered approach, along with evidence-based and habit-based approaches to nutrition therapy. She is passionate about helping people build a good relationship with food and sustain a positive lifestyle.
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