Eating well and drinking adequate amounts of water can help you perform at your best!
Focusing on basic sport nutrition principles like creating a sound training diet, increasing the amount of fluid you drink and properly timing when you eat will allow your body to work to its potential.
Good food is great fuel for active people. Choose well!
Establishing a Training Diet
Athletes come in all shapes and sizes. While the nutrient requirements of an elite level athlete vary from those of a “weekend warrior,” all active people can benefit from following some basic sport nutrition strategies.
Creating a nutritious training diet is one such strategy. A training diet is the way that an active person should eat most of the time.
Although we often hear or read about eating well in preparation for competitive sports events, your ongoing training diet is, in fact, of far greater importance. In other words, it’s how you eat most of the time that counts!
By consistently eating well over longer periods of time, you will provide your body with the essential nutrients that it needs to build strength and endurance.
A good training diet:
- provides all of the nutrients needed for good health;
- is balanced, i.e., no one food or food group is over- or under-emphasized; and
- is something you can live with daily, over many weeks or months.
Follow the Food Guide
Eating Well with Canada’s Food Guide is an easy-to-use template that athletes can use to build a personalized training diet.
The Food Guide provides concrete advice on the types of foods that should be included in a nutritious, well-balanced eating plan.
The Food Guide also gives you the freedom to include a variety of foods from each of the four food groups which, in turn, allows you to create a training diet that is practical and sustainable.
Calories count, especially for highly active people. Keep in mind that if you are involved in intense training, lasting for more than one hour several times each week, you may need to eat more servings from each food group than the Food Guide recommends.
Eat to match your hunger; choose extra servings from all of the food groups.
Eating Before Activity: Timing is Everything!
Eating before activity will give you the fuel you need to train or compete at your best.
Just as you would top up your car’s gas tank before a long trip, you need to top up your body’s fuel stores before physical activity.
Timing is everything where eating and physical activities are concerned:
- Sports nutritionists recommend that you eat a healthy meal or snack 2 to 4 hours before the start of a training session or competition. This way, the food you ate will not yet be digested and will be available to fuel you.
- In contrast, if you eat hours and hours before the start of your training session or competition, you may find yourself hungry in the middle of the activity.
It’s important to experiment with eating within this 2 to 4 hour range, to determine the timing of a “pre-event” meal or snack that works best for you.
Keep a training log or diary and note when and what you ate, and how you felt during training. This process will allow you to fine-tune your meal or snack planning.
Fuel from Carbohydrates
You can help fuel your body for training or competition by eating pre-event meals or snacks that are high in carbohydrates and low in fat, sugar, and salt. Small amounts of protein-rich foods like lean meats or milk can also be included.
Examples of healthy meals and snacks include:
- cereal + low fat milk + fruit
- whole grain muffin + yogurt + juice
- bagel + peanut butter + sliced banana
Liquid “meals” like smoothies also work well especially when time is short or when pre-competition nerves mean that an athlete cannot tolerate solid foods.
Here are a number of pointers relating to hydration:
- During physical activity your body will lose water through perspiration (sweating) and respiration (breathing). If you do not replace this water by drinking during the training session or competition you can become dehydrated.
- Dehydration or lack of body water takes away from sport performance and if left unattended can be fatal.
- Dehydration is preventable. The key is to take in adequate amounts of water and other fluids before, during and after physical activities.
Drink Adequate Amounts of Water
Like all of us, active people need water on a daily basis just to survive.
- Current recommendations are adult men to take in 3.7 L of water per day, while women should aim for 2.7 L per day.
- These amounts do not factor in the fluid losses that can occur during long or intense training sessions and active people may need more water.
- Meet your basic needs for water by sipping water throughout the day.
- Purchase a reusable water bottle and sip small amounts all day. Refill your bottle as needed. (For hygiene and safety, clean your bottle each evening, or more often)
- During physical activity, active people need to take time out every 10 to 15 minutes to drink.
- For activity lasting less than 1 hour, both the American College of Sport Medicine and Dietitians of Canada recommend that you drink approximately 125 ml of plain cool water about every 15 minutes.
- For activity lasting more than 1 hour, you can continue to drink water, or you may want to experiment with a fluid replacement beverage.
- Fluid replacement beverages contain water and glucose (a type of sugar that fuels your body), as well as nutrients like potassium and sodium, to replace what is lost in perspiration.
- Be aware that fluid replacement beverages can cause stomach upset in some people. As a result, it’s important to try these drinks during training and not on the day of an important race or competition.
- It’s also important to know that fluid replacement beverages are not the same as so-called “energy drinks.” Energy drinks contain excessive amounts of sugar and other ingredients and should not be used during sport.
- Taking in water once you finish training or competing is the last step in a plan to prevent dehydration. Continue to sip water for several hours after your activity session ends.
What you eat (and drink) can have a major impact on how well your body performs during physical activity. Choose a sound training diet, fine-tune the timing of your eating and stay hydrated. Eat well and drink adequate amounts of water to get the most out of your training and to improve your performance at competitive events.
Coaching Association of Canada – Sport Nutrition Resources
Provides information for athletes at all levels of sport.
Dietitians of Canada – Training Diets for Athletes
Offers practical advice on creating a training diet for active individuals.
Dietitians of Canada – The Scoop on Sport Supplements
Sport supplements are often aggressively marketed to active people. Learn more about the risks and benefits of these products.