Whether you're a runner, soccer player or gymnast, you train hard to perform your best. But if you want your training to really pay off, you need to fuel your body with the right food to sustain top energy levels. That means a healthy balanced diet with a heavy focus on the body's primary source of fuel -- carbs.
Getting the Right Balance
Even though carbs are the preferred source of energy for athletes, you need to eat a healthy balance of carbs, protein and fat to get the most energy out of your workouts and competitions. You may need to play around a bit to find the right balance for you. Runners, for example, may need to up their carb intake a few days prior to a long run. In general, a good diet for sports should include 40 percent to 60 percent of calories from carbs, 15 percent to 20 percent of calories from protein and 15 percent to 30 percent of calories from fat.
For example, if you eat 2,400 calories a day, you need 960 to 1,440 calories from carbs, 360 to 480 calories from protein and 360 to 720 calories from fat a day. In grams, that's 240 to 360 grams of carbs, 90 to 120 grams of protein and 40 to 80 grams of fat.
Nutrition for Long-Lasting Energy
To keep energy levels up at all times, fill your diet with nutrient-rich sources of carbs. Not only do nutritious carbs supply energy, but they also provide essential nutrients for overall good health. Good choices include whole-grain cereals and bread, whole-wheat pasta, vegetables, legumes, fruit and milk.
Endurance runners may also want to include healthy unsaturated fats such as peanut butter, olive oil, soy foods, fatty fish or avocados to provide the extra fuel they need for long-distance runs. These foods are also a healthy source of fat for all athletes.
Carbs for Quick Energy
Eating a high-carb, low-fat, low-fiber snack about an hour before a run or workout can help maximize your energy stores for better performance. Good choices include plain spaghetti, bagels, pretzels or dry cereal. These types of carbs are easy to digest, which helps provide a quick source of energy while preventing any kind of gastrointestinal disturbance.
For hydration and fuel, you may also consider trying fruit smoothies, unsweetened coconut water or sports drinks as a pre-event energy boost.
Foods to Replenish
Re-energizing after your a run or other sporting event is as important as fueling up before. A post-event or post-workout meal needs to include carbs, protein and fat. Carbs and fat help replenish energy stores, while protein helps repair and build muscle.
Ideally, you should consume this meal within 30 minutes after your training or competition to get the most benefits. Healthy post-event meal options include a glass of low-fat chocolate milk, a banana and low-fat string cheese or a bagel with peanut butter.