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Healthy sports nutrition: Optimize your performance

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Healthy sports nutrition is essential to improve your athletic performance, recover faster, and support your overall health. Sports nutrition involves maintaining a healthy basic diet with, if necessary, specific adjustments for particular sports performances. As the cherry on top, a specific group of athletes is advised to take supplements. In short, there’s plenty to discuss about this complex but fascinating world of sports nutrition. In this blog, you’ll learn more about healthy basic nutrition, situations where specific adjustments to your diet may be necessary, and for which athletes adding supplements can be beneficial in promoting performance.

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Indispensable for athletes: a solid foundation

Whether you’re a dedicated athlete or not into sports at all, it’s crucial for everyone to have their basic nutrition in order. Without a healthy, balanced basic diet that provides sufficient nutrients, vitamins, and minerals, making specific adjustments to your diet to enhance your athletic performance is not beneficial. Therefore, you must first ensure a varied and wholesome basic dietary pattern before considering sports-specific modifications.

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In the Netherlands, the dietary guideline is based on the Wheel of Five (Schijf van Vijf). Following the Wheel of Five ensures the intake of all essential food groups, preventing deficiencies. The Wheel of Five consists of five categories:

  • Vegetables/fruit
  • Fats
  • Meat/fish/legumes/nuts/eggs/dairy
  • Grain products/potatoes
  • Beverages

This dietary guideline recommends daily consumption of sufficient vegetables and fruit, choosing whole-grain products, eating fish weekly, opting for more plant-based options, and especially consuming sugar-free beverages. By primarily adhering to this dietary guideline, you ensure an adequate intake of nutrients and can rely on having your basic nutrition in order.

 

However, when engaging in intense sports, it may be necessary to take sports-specific measures in your diet. But how do you determine which specific adjustments are suitable for your particular situation?

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What is good sports nutrition?

When you engage in intensive workouts several times a week or when you have a specific sports goal, it may be necessary to make adjustments, in addition to optimizing your basic nutrition, specifically tailored to your objective.

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Firstly, it is wise to consume sufficient calories when engaging in intensive sports multiple times a week. Calories provide energy for your athletic performance; insufficient calorie intake can negatively impact your performance. Additionally, there are specific foods that are important when you frequently engage in intensive sports. We will discuss the role of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats in sports nutrition and why it’s crucial to maintain the right balance of nutrients.

Which nutrients do athletes need?

When engaging in intense sports, it is advisable to pay attention to the consumption of certain nutrients. But what should you eat specifically when you’re heavily involved in sports? We will delve into the importance of consuming sufficient proteins, carbohydrates, and fats, as well as staying adequately hydrated. Additionally, we will explain why these nutrients are crucial when you’re actively involved in sports.

Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates play an essential role for athletes as they serve as the primary source of energy during physical activities. During intense training sessions and competitions, our muscles utilize glucose derived from carbohydrates as fuel to perform optimally. Carbohydrates are broken down into glucose, which is readily available to the body and can be easily converted into energy. It is especially important for endurance athletes to consume enough carbohydrates, as their bodies rely on a continuous supply of energy during prolonged exertion.

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Proteins

Proteins are another vital nutrient for athletes, particularly in terms of muscle recovery and growth. Intensive workouts create small tears in muscle fibers, and proteins play a crucial role in the repair process. Proteins consist of amino acids, the building blocks of our bodies, and these amino acids are necessary to repair damaged muscle tissues and build new muscle fibers. Therefore, it is essential to consume sufficient proteins after intense exercise.

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In addition to supporting muscle recovery, proteins can also help reduce muscle breakdown during exercise, enabling athletes to maintain strength and perform better.

 

Popular sources of proteins for athletes include lean meat, fish, eggs, dairy products, nuts, and legumes.

Fats

Fats are a significant nutrient for athletes, despite sometimes being wrongly perceived as negative. Fats are essential for the health and performance of athletes.

 

One of the primary functions of fats is to provide energy, especially during prolonged and moderately intense activities. Fats are a highly efficient energy source and can supply large amounts of energy when carbohydrate stores are depleted, as in endurance sports like running or cycling.

 

Moreover, fats play a role in the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K) and are involved in the building of cell membranes and hormones. This influences processes such as recovery, immune system function, and hormonal balance, all of which are crucial for sports performance and overall health.

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For optimal health, it is advisable to choose healthy (unsaturated) fats, found in nuts, seeds, avocado, olive oil, and fish. It is important to limit saturated fats and trans fats, as these can contribute to diminished health.

Hydration

Adequate fluid intake plays an essential role in athletic performance and promoting the overall health of athletes. During physical activity, especially during intense exertion and in warm conditions, athletes lose significant amounts of fluid through sweating. This can lead to dehydration, which negatively impacts performance and recovery.

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It is crucial to consume enough fluids before, during, and after training or a competition to stay hydrated. Drinking water before exercise helps the body reduce fluid loss during the activity. During training, sports drinks with electrolytes (isotonic sports drinks) can help replenish the lost fluids and electrolytes due to sweating. This is recommended only when engaging in prolonged and intensive workouts. For normal or shorter workouts, drinking water is sufficient. After exercise, it is important to replenish fluids again to promote recovery and prevent dehydration.

Supplements in sports nutrition

A varied and balanced diet should always be the foundation. A well-composed diet provides all the necessary nutrients for optimal performance and recovery. Nutritional supplements can be beneficial in situations where the diet has certain deficiencies, such as in a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle. Additionally, if you are unable to eat a varied diet for an extended period, taking supplements may be advisable. Protein shakes can be a way to quickly get a high amount of protein. However, it always remains a healthier choice to obtain these nutrients from whole meals, as this way you will also intake other healthy nutrients. If you want to know whether essential nutrients are at the right levels in your blood, at Easly, we offer the Intensive Athletes test: with a simple finger prick, you can find out if certain essential nutrients are adequate.

Remember: a supplement does not replace a healthy diet and cannot compensate for a mediocre training strategy. Ensure that your basic diet is in order, you get enough sleep, and incorporate sufficient rest periods. Only when these factors are in place should you consider taking a supplement.

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Conclusion

A healthy dietary pattern is important for everyone, regardless of how intensively you train. For certain athletes, it may be necessary to take specific measures in their diet. Optimizing your nutrition can help you deliver better performances, recover faster, and enhance your overall health. Making the right nutritional choices allows you to get the most out of your workouts. At Easly, we offer an Intensive Athletes test. With a simple finger prick, you can find out if certain essential nutrients are at the right levels in your blood. If you have concerns or seek specific nutritional advice tailored to your individual situation, consult with your general practitioner or schedule an appointment with a (sports)dietitian.

Drs. Elise Janssen

Approved by a doctor

Drs. Elise Janssen

Medical Content Specialist

Having earned her MSc. in Medicine from Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam, Drs. Elise Janssen is currently honing her skills as a general practitioner trainee at Amsterdam UMC. In addition to her clinical training, she crafts medical blogs and meticulously reviews medical content for Easly.

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