March is National Nutrition Month. While most people know that proper nutrition can be applied to improve your health naturally, many are unaware that nutrition can also be used to improve athletic performance.

There are certain nutrients and foods that when ingested allow for a better performance as well as an improved recovery process after performance and injury.

In addition, sports nutrition can be used to help an athlete manage weight and weight loss naturally and safely.

sports-nutrition

Below are the three ways nutrition can improve athletic performance:

Performancesports-nutrition-performance

Nutrition can help enhance athletic performance in several ways. A proper diet with enough fluids can help provide the energy needed to perform at ones best in an athletic event, whether it be racing in a marathon or enjoying a casual backyard activity.

According to the American Dietetic Association, American College of Sports Medicine, and Dietitians of Canada’s 2009 Joint Position Stand on Nutrition for Athletic Performance, performance nutrition involves meeting requirements for calories, carbohydrates, fluids, iron, vitamins, and other minerals, and protein are sports nutrition practices that effectively enhance performance. Not ingesting the proper amount can leave an athlete tired and will most likely cause them to perform poorly during athletic events.

In general to improve performance, it is best to avoid exercising on an empty stomach. However, everyone is different, so it is important to learn things such as how soon before exercising is best to eat and how much food is the right amount.

The diet recommended for an athlete can be very different from the diet recommended for any other healthy person.  The amount of each food group and nutrient needed will depend on the type of sport, the amount of training, the amount of time spent in the activity or exercise. For this reason, it is advised to consult with a registered dietician or nutritionist before altering diet for performance.

sports-nutrition-recoveryRecovery

Most athletes get injured at least once in their career. Whether it’s a sore tendon, sudden muscle pull, or a fracture, the body goes through a series of responses to start healing itself. Research has proved that what you eat while recovering can actually speed up or inhibit the healing process. The reason for this is inflammation.

Inflammation is a source of controversy for many nutritionists. Although it is the cause of much pain, it is actually the first stage of normal, healthy healing. It’s an innate response. However, when there is incomplete healing or inflammation that goes array, the next stages of healing (repair, remodeling, etc;) don’t get to happen and chronic pain can be induced.

There are several foods and nutrients that when ingested can either inhibit or induce inflammation. There are foods that are known to be “inflammatory” foods, while other foods that have anti-inflammatory properties. What you eat ends up having a lot to do with how you feel and how quickly you can recover.

First we can examine the omega 6:3 ratio. The essential fatty acids – omega 3 and omega 6 – are both necessary for our bodies to work. The fatty acids that we consume are incorporated into our cells and structures and these chemicals control things like pain, sensitivity to pain, inflammation, swelling, and the adema (the redness that patients typically feel after an injury). The ratio comes into play because if body uses an omega-6 fatty acid it gets processed into the more inflammatory chemicals but if the body uses an omega-3 fatty acid instead, then the end products down stream are anti-inflammatory.

Omega-6 fatty acids promote pathways of inflammation, which is why limiting certain foods high in omega-6, such as vegetable oils and corn oils, as well as trans fatty acids, and adding in more omega-3 fatty acid heavy foods, such as fish, flax seeds, and nuts) is best for promoting injury healing.

Foods containing high amounts of vitamin C and antioxidants, like citrus fruits (i.e. oranges and lemons), can also provide pain relief and aid recovery. Vitamin C prevents bone loss and antioxidants reduce inflammation. Other foods that are packed with these beneficial nutrients include berries, in particular strawberries and blueberries, which contain the antioxidants quercetin and anthocyanidins. Both of these bioflavonoids have high anti-inflammatory powers. Certain green vegetables, such as broccoli and spinach, also are great sources of Vitamin C.

In addition, there are certain foods that can be added to any meal that can help relieve joint pain and promote bone generation. Olive oil, for example, contains the natural chemical compound oleocanthal. Oleocanthal is used as an ingredient in many for many inflammatory degenerative joint disease treatments. Studies have actually found this chemical compound to be as effective as – if not more than – ibuprofen prescribed for pain relief. Garlic and ginger are two spices that have anti-inflammatory properties and taste excellent when combined with just about anything.

Alternatively to foods that promote pain relief, it is just as important to discontinue eating foods that further inflammation. This includes any food that contains high amounts of refined carbohydrates, trans fats, sugars, omega-6 fatty acids, and saturated fats.

Weight managementsports-nutrition-weight-management

The food a person chooses to eat can either positively or negatively affect their health, and proper nutrition can lead to an overall healthier lifestyle. Nutrition for weight management is just as important for athletes as it is for normal people wanting to be healthy.

Several sports require weight management as a crucial component of their training, such as wrestling, crew, aesthetic sports (gymnastics, dancing, diving, figure skating and body building), and horseback riding. Rapid weight loss can result in dehydration and malnutrition, two major health risks for competing athletes. For this reason, it is very important for such athletes to practice healthy weight management practices.

Alternatively, being overweight or obese can impact just about every aspect of the orthopedic organ system – all muscles joints ligaments tendons bones are affected in some way shape or form. The overweight condition also leads to a worse outcome for normal injury healing, pain relief, back to normal functioning.

That being said, monitoring weight and fat loss are a crucial part of both performance and recovery for any athlete, as well as normal people. Overall a balanced diet containing healthy, nutritious foods with anti-inflammatory properties can provide an athlete the tools he or she needs for optimal athletic performance.