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Nutrition for Athletes
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If you’re an intense athlete, you’ll have to cater your diet to meet your specific needs. For those of us who work out on a normal basis—for an hour a day or less—a balanced diet will be adequate to get the right amount of energy and nutrients. However, if you are training for a marathon, if you are a professional or amateur athlete who trains intensely, or if you have a serious athletic hobby such as mountain biking or hiking, you’ll need to change your diet in some ways. The basic principles of nutrients, variety and balance apply to athletes. But the first thing to think about is energy. If you’re training for more than ninety minutes on any given day, or if you have multiple training sessions on a day, extra energy sources are important. One way to get extra energy is to snack throughout the day; but choose healthy snacks. Get variety in your snacks, but emphasize complex carbohydrates and fruits and vegetables.

Complex carbohydrates provide your body with the best source of long-term energy. During intense exercise, your body uses carbohydrates stored in your muscle called glycogen. In order to ensure that you have a strong glycogen supply, and that your body can replace glycogen stores between exercise sessions, get enough carbohydrates in your diet. Some athletes think a high-protein diet will help them perform their best. While protein is very helpful for building muscles and for tissue repair, never forego complex carbohydrates for meats. You’ll need the extra energy that comes from complex carbohydrates such as grains, whole wheat, barley and oat. Fruits and vegetables have some essential complex carbohydrates that will help to increase glycogen stores in your muscles. Plus, the vitamins and nutrients that come from extra vegetables and fruits will never hurt in making you feel more energized. Protein is definitely a key to getting stronger, but be wary of high-fat options. Instead, find lean meat, poultry and fish for your protein. You can find protein in some vegetables, legumes and grains. As a female athlete, you run the risk of becoming iron deficient. Seek out alternative sources of iron for your diet.

Make sure you’re hydrated at all times as an athlete. Get enough water before you exercise, during training and then replenish your body after you’re done. As you sweat, you lose some of the water in your body, so keep water at hand constantly. Some athletes prefer sports drinks for more intense workouts and competitions. There isn’t one recommended type of sports drink that is guaranteed to enhance your performance. However, having a drink on hand that provides electrolytes, nutrients or carbohydrates during an intensive workout is much better than having nothing. Even water can’t provide your body with the energy it needs to maintain a long, intense workout. Sometimes, it might help to have small complex carbohydrate laden snacks on hand to keep yourself fueled.

If you are engaging in extreme or intense exercise to lose weight, you might want to see a professional. Many women have a love of the game, so to speak, that drives them to push their bodies to athletic extremes. But some women think that by over-exercising they can lose weight or get to an ideal body type. If you find yourself training for a marathon or getting involved in serious athletics for the wrong reason, take a step back. Talk to your healthcare provider or an exercise specialist to discuss options that will allow you to engage in an adequate amount of exercise while remaining healthy, and happy.

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Nutrition for Athletes