Good nutrition is very important regardless of which sport you do. A variety of nutrients are needed in your daily diet to keep fit and healthy. A balanced diet should provide the right proportions of carbohydrate, fat, protein, vitamins and minerals, water and dietary fiber.
Energy is the most important nutritional factor for any form of physical activity. Carbohydrate and fat are the main fuels used by exercising muscles. Vitamins and minerals are also crucial in energy metabolism. A diet deficient in vitamin and minerals can compromise sporting performance.
The importance of a high-vitamin diet
In order to obtain vitamins and minerals, athletes need to eat a wide assortment of nutrient-dense foods in amounts that will maintain energy balance. This means that a person must consume 1,200 to1,500 kilo-calories a day.
Meeting vitamin and mineral requirements when energy intake is 3,000 kcal/day or higher (as is among male and female ice hockey and cross country skiers) is actually easy. Even athletes whose energy intakes may be about 2,000 kcal/day can meet their vitamin and mineral needs from food alone.
As long as a wide variety of foods are eaten, vitamin and mineral intake is adequate. Supplementation therefore is not necessary.
Is more better?
Athletes usually meet two-thirds or more of the Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs) for vitamins and minerals. Athletes who have high calorie intakes of about 5,000 to 6,000 kcal/day may achieve 200% or more of the RDA for some vitamins and minerals just from foods they eat.
Despite this fact, most of the athletes who are concerned with sports nutrition take supplements to boost performance. While vitamin and mineral deficiencies impair physical performance, research indicates that supplementation of a nutritionally adequate sports diet does not improve physical work capacity, endurance, oxygen consumption, cardiovascular function, muscle strength, or resistance to fatigue.
When are vitamin supplements needed?
Vitamin supplements are commonly used if an athlete's diet is not enough for his energy requirements. Vitamin supplements provide "health insurance," as sort of back-up to ensure optimal sports nutrition.
Multivitamin supplements with no more than 100% of the Daily Value (DV.) provide a safe and adequate balance of vitamins. However, it should not be forgotten that the goal is still to eat a wide variety of foods. Food contains fiber and a multitude of phytochemicals that provide many health benefits.
Supplements should never be replacements for food. While many sports supplements contain the antioxidant beta carotene, at least 450 carotenoids are only found in food. Antioxidant value exists in other carotenoids as well.
Minerals for injury prevention
Minerals like calcium, iron, and zinc are especially important for athletes.
Recommendations of calcium intake are based on levels than can promote calcium retention, maximize bone mineral density, and inhibit bone loss. Food that provide good calcium stores are the following: dairy products, fish with bones, broccoli, and fortified cereals and juices.
Iron depletion, the first stage of iron deficiency is the most common type of iron deficiency among athletes. Lean red meats, dark poultry, fortified cereals, whole grains, and legumes are good iron sources.
Zinc, which is found in meat, poultry, seafood, and whole grains, is essential for protein synthesis, healing, and immune function.
Although minerals are needed to work hand-in-hand with vitamins to ensure good sports nutrition, we must remember that consuming any mineral excessively can interfere with digestion and the absorption of other minerals. This may lead to mineral imbalances. Also, all minerals can be toxic in large doses.