For Peak Performance
plays a critical role in athletic performance, but many active
people do not eat a diet that helps them do their best. Without a
basic understanding of nutrition, popping a pill seems easier than
planning a menu. In reality, there is no pill, potion, or powder
that can enhance your performance like the right foods and fluids.
The Energy Diet
To have enough energy you need to
energy. Getting adequate calories is one of the keys to an
ergogenic, or performance-enhancing, diet. With too few calories
you will feel tired and weak, and you will be more prone to
ergogenic diet is based on the US Department of Agriculture’s
widely published food guide pyramid, which includes five basic
groups: grains, fruits, vegetables, dairy foods, and protein-rich
foods. Sugars and fats provide extra calories after the needs for
foods from the other groups have been met.
adequate calories from a variety of foods, you will satisfy your
need for macronutrients (carbohydrate, protein, fat) and
micronutrients (vitamins, minerals).
Carbohydrates. A high-carbohydrate diet increases stores of glycogen,
the energy for muscles, and improves overall athletic performance.
The bulk of the day’s calories-60% to 70%-should come from
carbohydrates such as bread, cereal, grains, pasta, vegetables, and
carbohydrate foods can affect your energy level in different ways.
Digestion rates are expressed as a “glycemic index.”
Foods with a high glycemic index release energy into the
bloodstream rapidly, while foods with a moderate or low glycemic
index release their energy more slowly. (However, beware of the old
idea that simple sugars are always digested rapidly and cause wide
swings in blood sugar, and that all complex carbohydrates like
bread are digested more slowly and don’t cause blood sugar
exercise for longer than an hour, you can begin to deplete your
muscles of glycogen. By consuming 30 to 75 grams per hour of
high-glycemic-index carbohydrate in liquid or solid form when you
exercise, you can minimize this effect.
long workout or competition, your depleted muscle glycogen stores
must be replenished, especially if you will be exercising again
within the next 8 hours. Eat at least 50 grams of
high-glycemic-index carbohydrate just after exercise, and consume a
total of at least 100 grams of high-glycemic-index carbohydrate in
the first 4 hours afterward. Moderate-glycemic-index foods may be
added for the next 18 to 20 hours, with a goal of consuming at
least 600 grams of carbohydrate during the 24 hours after an
intense workout or competition.
Fat. Fat is
definitely an important energy source, particularly for athletes
involved in prolonged, low-intensity activity. (For high-intensity,
short-term activity, carbohydrate is the primary fuel source.)
About 20% of the calories in a performance-enhancing diet should
come from fat (1), most of it unsaturated fat like vegetable and
Protein. Protein plays a minor role in energy production,
contributing only 5% to 10% of the energy used during prolonged
exercise. Although the current recommended dietary allowance for
protein is about 0.4 grams per pound of body weight per day, most
active people need slightly more. And athletes involved in heavy
resistance exercise or prolonged endurance events may require 0.7
to 0.9 grams per pound per day. Even this amount is relatively easy
to eat, since 3 ounces of fish or chicken, 1 1/2 cups of tofu, or 1
1/2 cups of garbanzo beans contain 20 to 24 grams of protein.
Vitamins and minerals. They don’t contribute energy themselves, but
vitamins and minerals are integral to food metabolism and energy
production. Iron and calcium are the minerals most commonly
deficient in athletes, and strict vegetarians may be deficient in
vitamin B12. By consuming adequate calories and following the food
guide pyramid plan, your needs for all the important micronutrients
can be met.
the ultimate ergogenic aid-but because the body has a poor thirst
mechanism, you must drink before you feel thirsty. Once you are
thirsty you are already slightly dehydrated, and your performance
will be diminished.
well hydrated, you need to drink about a quart of caffeine-free,
nonalcoholic fluids for every 1,000 calories of food you eat,
assuming you maintain your weight. To ensure that you are well
hydrated before you exercise, drink 2 cups of water or sports drink
2 hours beforehand. To avoid dehydration during exercise, begin
drinking early and at regular intervals. For exercise lasting an
hour or less, 4 to 6 ounces of cool water every 15 to 20 minutes
provides optimal fluid replacement.
exercise that lasts longer than 60 minutes,
carbohydrate-electrolyte beverages containing 5% to 8% carbohydrate
should be drunk at the same rate to replace fluid and spare muscle
glycogen. Also, consuming sports drinks during intense activities
such as soccer or basketball may enhance performance. After
exercise, replace every pound lost during exercise with at least 2
cups of fluid.
The Ergogenic Future
for energy-giving food substances is widening. Alongside old
standards like caffeine and herbal stimulants stand newly
researched substances like capsaicin, the active ingredient in hot
red chili peppers. One study showed that runners who ate a breakfast
laced with 10 grams (about 1/3 of an ounce) of dried hot red pepper
powder burned carbohydrates faster, both at rest and during
exercise (2). These results are preliminary and tentative, but they
raise the question whether designer ergogenic foods may be in our
future. Until then, you’ll find the staples of your ergogenic diet
in the food aisles of your local supermarket.
RJ: Sports nutrition, in Johnson RJ, Lombardo JA (eds): Current
Review of Sports Medicine. Philadelphia, Current Medicine Inc,
1994, vol 15, pp 201-221
Yoshioka M, Kikuzato S, et al: Dietary red pepper ingestion
increases carbohydrate oxidation at rest and during exercise in
runners. Med Sci Sports Exerc 1997;29(3):355-361
Remember: you, your physician, and your nutritionist need to
work together to discuss nutrition concerns. The above information
is not intended as a substitute for appropriate medical treatment.