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An athlete’s diet is a key aspect in supporting consistent, intense training, whilst remaining free from illness and injury. This is particularly important for young athletes who have the additional energy cost of growth and development.

 

What should be in an athlete’s diet?

An athlete should ensure that they consume a varied diet that is sufficient in energy to support both health and performance. Due to the stresses that high volume, endurance training places on the body, it is important to ensure that the diet is sufficient in energy (predominantly from carbohydrates) and protein and rich in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. These nutrients are vital to energy production, muscle recovery and immune function, amongst other factors.

 

An athlete’s diet should contain plenty of nutrient dense foods such as:

 

  • whole grain products
  • nuts
  • vegetables
  • oily fish
  • fruit
  • dairy products
  • pulses (beans, peas, lentils)

 

Athletes have slightly higher protein demands, so high quality proteins are fundamental in the diet, for example:

 

  • lean meats
  • fish
  • eggs
  • dairy (particularly milk) and vegetarian alternatives such as soy milk and
  • tofu

 

Iron is one of several essential nutrients for endurance athletes and iron rich foods include:

 

  • lean red meat
  • eggs
  • dark green leafy vegetables
  • fortified cereals

 

Recovery

 

Fuelling up and recovering from training and competition is crucial in maximising performance and promoting muscular adaptations, whilst also minimising the risk of illness and injury.

 

Carbohydrates play a key role in this area, as they are an important source of energy for the muscles, hormone responses and the cells of the immune system. Carbohydrates are also an important energy source for the brain and are therefore necessary for concentration both during training and at school, university or work.

 

Good sources of carbohydrate are:

 

  • cereals
  • bread
  • rice, pasta, noodles
  • couscous
  • milk
  • fruits and vegetables (particularly sweet potato, butternut squash, parsnips etc)

 

Replacing fluid lost during training or competition is crucial and becomes even more important in hot and humid conditions. If the fluid shortfall is too great, then it is likely that this will have a detrimental effect on performance. In order to restore fluids after exercise, it is necessary to drink more than the amount lost through sweat, as well as ensuring the electrolytes (particularly sodium) are replenished.

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