With regional and state sports meets on the horizon, now is the time for athletes to review their nutritional practices. Proper hydration and fueling is essential to optimizing athletic performance, particularly when a competition spans multiple hours and days.
Sports dietitian Brett Singer with the Memorial Hermann IRONMAN Sports Medicine Institute advises athletes to avoid dramatic weight loss the week before, or even a few days before, competitions.
“You can’t try to cut weight by limiting fluids or eating less and expect to perform your best,” says Singer. “If you enter a competition underfueled or underhydrated, you can’t refuel and rehydrate quickly enough.”
Wrestling, swimming, football and gynmastics are a few sports that top the list of intense, highly competitive sports. They each require a unique blend of strength, endurance, coordination, speed and strategy.
To these athlete's credit, these are some of the best sports for overall physical development as they involve an equal emphasis on all muscle groups, rather than the isolated muscle development that occurs in selectively playing some of the more common sports.
As a result, these athletes rely on glycogen, which is stored glucose the body makes when digesting carbohydrates. Throughout intense competitions, the body pulls from the store of muscle glycogen for energy. Yet, the body is capable of storing only a limited amount of glycogen. That’s why careful nutritional planning is more important than ever for these endurance events.
Singer recommends a solid breakfast the morning of competition. This could include an egg, two slices of toast with jelly, fruit and a sports drink.
“If there’s travel involved, scout out what the hotel provides in terms of meals, microwaves and refrigerators,” says Singer. “Maybe an athlete needs to make his own breakfast. If eating out is planned, research the options in advance.”
During the competition, Singer recommends athletes focus on carbohydrates with plenty of fluids and a small amount of protein. If there is only one hour or so until the next match, light carbohydrates are a better choice. These include fruits, grains, applesauce, a sports drink or granola bar.
If a wrestler has a three- to four-hour time span between matches, something more solid is appropriate. Singer suggests a sandwich or light meal that includes protein, grains and fruit. Avoid heavy eating because the increased time for digestion can lead to loss of energy or even stomach discomfort.
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