Healthy eating habits/Nutrition & Quick Snack Ideas for Sport Performance

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Why is nutrition important for sports performance?[edit]

Good nutrition is important for sports performance as it can assist with energy levels and recovery. A common issue reported in athletes is that energy requirements are not met by food [1].

Energy[edit]

It is important to fuel your body with energy from food (kilojoules) to meet the demands of exercise and help with recovery after physical activity. This is due to exercise increasing energy requirements, which varies depending on the type, duration and intensity of the exercise [2] [3]. The higher intensity and longer duration the exercise, the higher the energy requirements from food [4] [5]. The three main nutrients that supply the body with energy are:

  • Fat
  • Protein
  • Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates[edit]

Carbohydrates are an important source of energy, and are broken down into smaller sugars such as glucose. The body uses glucose as the main form of energy for our cells [3].

  • When there is more glucose than the body needs to use for energy, it converts it into glycogen (which is made up of many connected glucose molecules) and is stored in the liver or muscles [3].
  • Glycogen is the major source of energy for exercising muscle
  • When there are low glycogen levels (usually after 60 - 90 minutes) the body switches to using fat as energy, which can result in fatigue, tiredness and is commonly referred to as athletes 'hitting the wall' [3].
  • Important to eat foods high in carbohydrates to replenish glycogen stores after exercise to improve recovery [3].
  • Foods rich in carbohydrates include cereals, breads, pasta, rice, fruit, vegetables, milk and yoghurt [5].

Protein[edit]

Protein is important to help your muscles recover, repair and rebuild after exercise and can be used as an energy source, when carbohydrate reserves are very low [5]. Protein rich foods include chicken, red meat such as beef, pork, fish, eggs, dairy foods and nuts [5].

Fat[edit]

Fat provides energy source for long duration, low to moderate intensity exercise such as marathons [2]. [5]

  • It is recommended to include moderate amounts of ‘healthy’ fats in your diet i.e. nuts, seeds, fish, reduced-fat dairy foods, lean meat and avocados [5]
  • Foods high in ‘unhealthy’ fat should be limited and include foods such as chocolate, pastries, chips and deep fried foods [5]

So why are snacks important?[edit]

Snacking in addition to regular planned meals, is essential to help meet energy and nutrient requirements (such as carbohydrate, protein and fats) to improve performance. An athlete's diet should typically consist of high carbohydrate, moderate protein and low fat foods [6].

Nutrition and snack ideas before exercise[edit]

Foods eaten before exercise need to be digested and absorbed to maximise the energy available from the foods during physical activity. Foods typically high in fat and protein take longer to digest and may result in stomach ache or upset during exercise [6]. Therefore, snacks should be eaten at least 1 to 2 hours prior to exercise, should be high in carbohydrates and low in fat to help with digestion and to avoid stomach discomfort. Above all, it is important to try and test snacks as results will vary for each individual [6].

A 'banana' is an example of a quick and easy high carbohydrate snack that can be eaten on toast with honey before exercise


Table 1.0 - Examples of easy snacks to eat and prepare before exercise, training or a tournament

Examples of high carbohydrate snacks before exercise
Cereal bars [6]
Banana and honey sandwich [6]
Fruit scone with jam [6]
English muffin with thick spread of topping [6]

Too nervous to eat?[edit]

If you are too nervous to eat before exercise, experiment with a routine that works and with foods that are safe and familiar. These could include snacks that are easier to eat and that are appetizing i.e. chocolate milk, cereal bars and some sports drinks [4]. Studies have shown that performance is improved when athletes are well-fuelled and hydrated before exercise [4].

Nutrition and snack ideas for post-exercise recovery[edit]

Why are snacks important to have after exercise?

  • To refuel and replenish glycogen in the liver and muscles [2]
  • To repair muscle tissue [2]

Therefore, recovery meals and snacks should contain carbohydrates and some protein and should be eaten 30 minutes after finishing training or a tournament [6].

Vegemite on toast with cheese is a good post exercise snack


Table 2.0 - Examples of quick and easy snacks to eat and prepare after training,exercise or a tournament

High carbohydrate, high protein snacks after exercise
Vegemite and cheese sandwich [6]
Salad sandwich with meat/chicken/tuna/cheese [6]
Soup in a cup + bread roll + slice of cheese [6]
Chocolate milk [6]

Preparation of snacks[edit]

Organisation and preparation of snacks is important to maintain good nutrition before and after exercise, so reliance on a sporting venue is minimal [4]. Preparing meals and snacks the night before is often a good idea, as sporting venues often have snacks and meals that are usually not ideal such as pies, hot chips and chocolates. These foods should only be eaten sometimes, and are not ideal foods for before or after exercise [4].

Further Reading[edit]

For more information on nutrition and sports performance, you can visit Sports Dietitians Australia and the Australian Institute of sport.

References[edit]

  1. Rodriguez, N. R., DiMarco, N. M., & Langley, S. (2009). Nutrition and athletic performance. Medicine and science in sports and exercise, 41(3), 709-731
  2. a b c d Sports Dietitians Australia [SDA], (2009). Eating and Drinking before Sport - Fact Sheet. Available at: http://www.sportsdietitians.com.au/resources/upload/Eating_Drinking_Before_Sport.pdf, Accessed: October, 2013
  3. a b c d e Gollnick, P. D., & Matoba, H. (1984). Role of carbohydrate in exercise. Clinics in sports medicine, 3(3), 583-593
  4. a b c d e Australian Sports Commission (2009) Eating before exercise - Australian Institute of Sport. Retrieved: http://www.ausport.gov.au/ais/nutrition/factsheets/competition_and_training/eating_before_exercise, Accessed on: October, 2013
  5. a b c d e f g Dairy Australia (2009) Sports Nutrition - Good Health Fact Sheet. Retrieved from http://www.dairyaustralia.com.au/~/media/Documents/Health%20and%20Nutrition/Good-Health-Fact-sheets/Current/Good%20Health%20Fact%20Sheet%20-%20Sports%20Nutrition%202010.pdf. October, 2013
  6. a b c d e f g h i j k l Sports Dietitians Australia [SDA]. Food for your sport - Basketball. Available at: http://www.sportsdietitians.com.au/resources/upload/Basketball.pdf, Accessed: October, 2013