Every season we see athletes spending more time in the gym or on the field pushing to improve their abilities. But, we hear less about their efforts to fuel up their bodies before and after those tough workouts – even though nutrition greatly impacts athletic performance and muscle health. Perhaps, the most overlooked hinderance to success and contributor to injuries is a lack of proper nutrition.
Finding time to consume enough calories is hard for athletes and setting aside time to plan out balanced nutritious meals is even harder. Nevertheless, the research is clear: failing to meet the body’s energy needs results in insufficient recovery, poor physical performance and, ultimately, weakness that can contribute to injury. While injuries in sports will never be completely avoidable, it’s possible to minimize injury risk. The nutrition equation is simple.
Whole-Food Meals + (Supplementation x Timing) = Optimal Recovery
Whole-Food Meals are the balanced meals that provide the bulk of daily calories, macronutrients, micronutrients and fiber. For a meal to be balanced, it should include approximately 50-60% complex carbohydrates, such as unprocessed grains, fruit and vegetables; 20-30% fat; and 15-20% protein. It is crucial to remember that no amount of supplementation can compensate for poor nutrition.
Supplementation x Timing is how athletes provide their bodies with the resources they need at the precise time they’re needed to ensure maximum performance and adequate recovery.
There are two categories of supplements in an athlete’s daily training regimen: “sports drinks” and “recovery drinks.” Sports drinks contain simple carbs, electrolytes and water. Recovery drinks contain simple carbs, proteins and electrolytes. Use sports drinks 90 minutes before and during exercise that lasts longer than 60 minutes. Sports drinks provide easily digested, fast-acting carbohydrates to top off blood sugar, which minimizes the amount of muscle proteins that the body must consume for energy.
Use recovery drinks within 30-45 minutes after exercise. The combination of protein and carbohydrates in recovery drinks replenishes fuel stores and promotes muscle growth. Recovery drinks with a 3:1 or 4:1 carb-to-protein ratio are optimal for shutting off the system that’s responsible for breaking down muscle during intense exercise. A great, and often more affordable, option with this carb-to-protein ratio is chocolate milk.
The timing of the recovery drink is also vital. An athlete with morning weightlifting, a midday athletic period at school, and afternoon practice is engaging in three to six hours of vigorous physical activity with only a few hours to recuperate. The body can burn through half of its carb stores in under an hour, which means that the next training session will demand more than the athlete’s body can give. As a result, the athlete either pushes too hard, driving the body into an overtraining state, or the athlete can’t push hard enough, and the body begins detraining. Overtraining can lead to fatigue, illness and injury, and detraining leads to weakness, which can contribute to injury. Both states are detrimental to the athlete.
At the end of the day, sports injuries are part of the game, but proper nutrition is key to decreasing the risk of injury. Learn more about gaining a competitive edge with chocolate milk and sports nutrition and read my research with high school athletes recovering with chocolate milk.