Sports Nutrition Guide

Regardless of what type of athlete you are, a scientific based sports nutrition program can help you get the edge you need. Read this series for more details.

Do you want to build bigger and stronger muscles?
Would you like to run faster and longer?
Wish you could jump higher and farther?
Want to look and feel your best and be nutritionally fit?

Whether you are a competitive athlete training for the Olympics, a competitive or recreational athlete, or a weekend warrior looking to have a little fun, or someone who is exercising to stay in shape, a scientifically-based sports nutrition program can help you get the edge you need for peak performance and optimum health.

Many scientific studies have examined how sports nutrition practices and sports supplements help boost physical performance.

The findings are so promising that the National Institutes of Health held a symposium just to explore the role of dietary supplements in fitness performance. Also, a report released by the Committee on Military Nutrition Research examined how food components enhance physical performance.

It seems that new studies showing the beneficial effects of good nutrition and dietary supplements are being published virtually every month now.

The research is so impressive that the FDA (U.S. Food and Drug Administration) has recently approved many dietary supplement ingredients to help reduce the risk of diseases and benefit the health of the body in many ways, like reducing the risk of heart diseases, diabetes, and even certain cancer.

This is important because, ideally, athletes should strive for both maximum performance and optimum health. Ironically, from my experience and numerous dietary surveys, most athletes' diets are deficient in vital essential nutrients, which can be easily corrected by taking the right sports nutrition products, including dietary supplements.

This Sports Nutrition Guide Online will help you to understand the latest discoveries in sports nutrition science. By reading this guide, you can determine your optimum intake of certain macronutrients - proteins, carbohydrates, and lipids - for your particular sports activity or personal fitness goals.

You'll also learn how to decide which vitamins and minerals will provide you with the best results. You'll read about the top supplements for muscle building, for fat loss, for maximum endurance, and for the reduction of pain and inflammation.

Finally, you'll learn how to put sports supplements and nutrition practices to work for you. With the help of this guide, you'll be able to enhance your fitness level and take control of your sports performance destiny.

An Overview of Sports Nutrition

Over 3 decades of scientific research reveal that the physical demands of athletic training and competition create special nutritional needs. This means that your specific athletic conditioning determines which foods and supplements work best for you.

Of course, all athletes need to follow the general rules of healthy eating, but they also need to modify their dietary intake of certain nutrients to enable them to achieve maximum performance in their particular sport. For example, an endurance athlete - also called an oxidative or aerobic athlete - needs different amounts of macronutrients then a strength or power athlete.

This section covers the basics of sports nutrition and introduces my "Dynamic Nutrition Approach to Maximum Performance" to help you approach your sports nutrition program the same way you approach your athletic training - as a skill!

[ Q ] Will a balanced diet provide me with all of the nutrients I need?

A: While it's important to eat a balanced diet containing adequate amounts of all of the essential nutrients, scientific research has shown that a balanced diet alone does not provide sufficient nutrition to individuals undergoing strenuous physical activities.

For example, endurance athletes, such as marathon runners, require twice the RDA (Recommended Dietary Allowance) of protein and total calories, while strength athletes, who rely on large muscles, require even more protein than endurance athletes do. Moreover, dietary surveys conducted on athletic individuals of both sexes show a dietary deficiency of one to several essential vitamins and minerals.

The scientific evidence indicates that a diet containing adequate amounts of macronutrients does not necessarily contain adequate amounts of nutrients.

Due to these special requirements, athletic people need to approach nutrition as a skill! And, as with any skill, you need the proper tools to perfect it. In the case of sports nutrition, the proper tools include:

  • Knowledge about nutrition and performance nutrition.
  • Knowledge about sports supplements.
  • A sports nutrition approach to follow; an approach that provides information based on scientific findings, not advertising hype or myth, which this guide is designed to do for you.

Keep in mind, however, that just as it takes time to perfect your athletic skills, your sports nutrition program also needs time to develop. When you give it enough attention, you'll experience a significant improvement in your athletic performance, improvements in body composition, and health.

[ Q ] What are macronutrients and micronutrients?

A: The four macronutrients are protein (source of amino acids), carbohydrates, lipids (fats), and water - all of which you need in plentiful amounts each day. Micronutrients - mainly vitamins and minerals - are needed in relatively small amounts, and have been shown to be essential to growth and development, and for good health and winning athletic performance.

[ Q ] What sports supplements should I take?

A: From the start, you should keep in mind that the foods and supplements you need will be dictated by the physical activity you are undertaking. In general, however, your sports supplements should include a good multivitamin and multi-mineral formula that contains antioxidants, such as vitamin C, beta-carotene, and bioflavonoids.

And because many studies show that a large percentage of athletes do not take in adequate amounts of dietary protein, a protein supplement is also recommended, especially for strength athletes, such as football players, weightlifters, and bodybuilders.

Certain types of carbohydrate drinks have been shown to act as potent performance beverages and are particularly useful directly before, during, and after exercise. You'll also benefit by including a good source of EFA's (Essential Fatty Acids) that may include an essential fatty-acid supplement in your regimen.

Lastly, throughout your training period and competition season, you may find the use of ergogenic aids very helpful.

[ Q ] What are ergogenic aids?

A: This is a term frequently encountered in ads, books and magazines, but do you really know what it means? According to Dr. Frederick C. Hatfield (who created this term), the president and cofounder of the International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA), ergogenic aids are substances and practices that safely and effectively improve sports performance.

Dr. Hatfield is credited with coining the term ergogenesis, which refers to a new beginning for athletes attempting to stop using illegal drugs, such as anabolic steroids, to enhance their performance.

Ergogenic aids include good nutritional practices such as those you'll be learning about throughout this guide; use of special sports nutrition products; use of dietary supplements; and psychological techniques, such as visualization.

Others include training techniques, such as weight-lifting/resistance training; plyometrics; periodization; adequate rest; and therapeutic technologies, such as massage - all of which, when combined, will result in enhanced athletic performance and body composition.

[ Q ] How do I determine which nutrition plan is best for me?

A: Some nutrition plans promote weight loss; others, weight gain. Still others help you maintain your desired weight and maximize athletic performance.

When looking at the many diets that promote weight loss, one common factor is low intake of calories. Any time you follow a low-calorie diet, you should experience weight loss.

If you choose to follow such a diet, be sure your eating plan provides sufficient amounts of all the nutrients your body requires. The idea is to lose fat, not muscle. You also want to maintain peak performance.

On the other hand, when it comes to bodybuilding diets, this requires high protein and calorie intake modulation, which - if you also follow a resistance training program - should result in weight gain.

Ideally, such bodybuilding programs should be designed to minimize gains in body fat, and maximize gains in lean body mass, which includes muscle mass.

The common characteristic of most diets, whether they are intended for weight loss, gain or maintenance, is that they provide you with a structured eating plan. If you are a person who wants to lose weight, gain weight or enhance your athletic performance, structure and planning are your best friends.

Structure helps you get the most out of your dietary regimen. With structure comes planning and discipline - two factors needed for a successful sports nutrition program.

Athletic individuals who are in good shape should follow a diet that fits the needs of their athletic training. To accomplish this, I have developed the Dynamic Nutrition for Maximum Performance approach.

[ Q ] What is the Dynamic Nutrition for Maximum Performance Approach?

A: The Dynamic Nutrition Approach is the first scientific model of sports and fitness nutrition ever developed. It is intended to help you customize your sports and fitness nutrition program to the demands of your particular athletic training.

[Please note, however, that this information concerning the dynamic nutrition approach is meant to only be introductory. More detailed information can be found in my book, "Dynamic Nutrition for Maximum Performance" (Avery Publishing Group, 1997) and future e-Books.]

This information can also be found in my "Specialist in Performance Nutrition" course I developed with Dr. Fred Hatfield, and is offered as an independent study course from the ISSA (International Sports Sciences Association). Meanwhile, the following information should help you learn about this major scientific breakthrough in sports nutrition science.

When you train for a particular sport, you are conditioning your muscles to produce strength and contractions that generate motion specific to your sport objectives. For example, a marathon runner needs to display a low intensity muscular output that can be sustained for long periods.

Compare this with the explosive strength a sprinter needs to run a short distance as fast as humanly possible. Thus, the type of physical conditioning performed shapes the size and bioenergetic conditioning of the muscles. In other words, it affects the type of muscle fibers you develop more of and how they function. This plays a major role in determining your nutritional needs.

[ Q ] How does exercise affect muscle development and composition?

A: Skeletal muscles are composed of two major types of muscle fibers: slow-twitch muscle fibers and fast-twitch muscle fibers. They are nourished with the help of the cardiovascular system, which is needed to supply nutrients and oxygen for aerobic (oxygen) metabolism and to quickly clear away metabolic wastes.

Slow-twitch muscle fibers are those preferentially developed when you undertake long-distance training, such as walking, running, cycling or swimming - usually distances that take more than a few minutes or more or continuous movement to accomplish.

This type of physical conditioning results in small well-developed muscles, capable of producing steady, low-intensity muscle contractions needed for endurance. A well-conditioned endurance athlete uses energy-rich fatty acids and can maintain muscle output for extended periods.

Keep in mind, however, that glucose - as well as some amino acids - is also an important energy source for endurance athletes, especially in the beginning of endurance physical activities and to sustain high energy muscle contractions, over and over again during practice and competition.

When muscle glycogen is depleted, the ability of the muscles to produce peak force is reduced for all athletes, endurance and strength.

Strength athletes require conditioning that will preferentially develop fast-twitch muscle fibers. Fast-twitch muscle fibers are capable of providing short bursts of strength and energy. However, as a consequence, anaerobic waste products, such as lactic acid, build up and cause muscle fatigue to quickly set in, reducing strength performance.

Fast-twitch muscle fibers have some oxidative capacity, which means that they can be conditioned for sustained power - the extent of which depends on how you train your body.

However, the large muscles of strength athletes are conditioned to primarily rely on anaerobic energy pathways, such as the immediate energy systems that use the ready supply of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) - the body's primary energy molecule - and creatine phosphate (CP) - a body compound that replenishes ATP.

In addition, energy is derived from glycolysis, the process that uses muscle glycogen (stored glucose) and free glucose to make ATP molecules.

Although both endurance and strength athletes are always using fatty acids for energy, strength athletes tend to be more conditioned to use muscle glycogen during exercise. This is one reason why strength athletes need to make sure that their diet is lower in fat then endurance athletes.

In fact, this frustrates a lot of people who are well conditioned strength training athletes, who have to battle to keep their body fat low. In most cases, they are eating too much of the wrong foods - usually too much fat.

One final note on this question: Even the most highly trained anaerobic athletes, such as power-lifters, are always making energy using aerobic pathways as well. That's why you need to breathe in oxygen all the time and can only live a few minutes without it.

Even aerobic athletes, such as marathon runners, use their anaerobic pathways. In fact, everybody's muscles contain both fast-twitch and slow-twitch muscle fibers.

What makes a person an aerobic (oxidative or endurance) athlete or anaerobic (power or strength) athlete is sport-specific physical conditioning and activity. Some athletes rely on all the ability to use both anaerobic and aerobic energy systems for maximum performance.

It is just a matter of to what extent these energy systems are relied upon. For example, a basketball player utilizes both anaerobic and aerobic energy pathways during the game.

However, when compared to a strength athlete, a basketball player does not have the same level of maximum strength development, and compared to a long distance runner, the basketball player does not have the same level of endurance development to run a marathon as fast as possible.

Understanding the muscle bioenergetics and biomechanics of your sport, and the body/nutrition connection is key for maximum performance and health.

[ Q ] Why should I take sports nutrition supplements?

A: Scientific studies show that in addition to maintaining a nutrient-rich diet, you can enhance your physical and mental performance by taking sports nutrition supplements.

Protein supplements, such as whey protein, offer you a convenient and economical way to get a daily supply of high quality protein. There are several supplements, such as glucosamine and hydrolyzed gelatin/collagen that can promote optimum connective tissue growth and repair. For maximum aerobic energy - which is of interest to long-distance athletes - energy drinks can be very useful.

There are also supplemental metabolites (substances produced by metabolism), such as carnitine, creatine, vasoactive botanicals, and coenzyme Q10, that can enhance your performance.

And, to help reduce pain and inflammation and to speed up healing, research supports the use of therapeutic supplements, including some types of herbs, some amino acids such as DL-phenylalanine, botanical bioflavonoids and other antioxidants, and glucosamine - a natural substance that has been shown to both maintain and repair connective tissues.

All dietary surveys conducted with athletes report deficiencies in one or more of the essential vitamins and minerals. Taking a multivitamin and mineral supplement will provide adequate intake of the essential vitamins and minerals, in addition to what is consumed in the diet from conventional foods.

[ Q ] Are sports nutrition supplements safe?

A: Yes, sports nutrition supplements are safe, similar to other food products. However, the safety of a supplement always depends upon an individual's specific state of health and level of physical activity. Safety also depends upon whether the individual is following the directions on the product label and is not over-dosing any of the supplements.

As for taking vitamins and minerals, these supplements have been used for many decades and have an excellent safety record when taken as directed. The same is true for protein, carbohydrate and essential fatty acid (EFA)-containing supplements.

When it comes to newer sports supplement ingredients, some of them do not have a long history of use and lack sufficient research to back their long-term safety. Many of the new supplement ingredients are studied for only short periods - a few weeks or a few months - which means that the long-term effects of their use have not yet been determined.

If you decide to take these newer supplements - many of which are naturally made by and used by your body - be sure to exercise caution and follow the usage directions on the product label.

Another way the safety of the newer sports supplement ingredients can be determined is by their presence in food. Take creatine for example, creatine is made by your body and is found in the meats you eat.

Concerning creatine monohydrate supplements, after dozens of research studies, this body of research has shown that short-term use of creatine is safe and effective when used by healthy people in the proper dosages.

Regarding long-term use of creatine, there are now studies examining the use of creatine supplements for over a year in duration, which report no adverse side effects, but do report about the many athletic performance enhancing and health benefits creatine supplements have to offer athletes of all ages, men and women.

For many of the established essential vitamins and minerals, you will find recommended daily values printed directly on the product labels. In most cases, you should take in at least 100 percent of the recommended daily values. Sometimes you will need them in higher amounts.

But remember, it's wise to be under the supervision of a doctor, your team physician, or other health-care professional to make sure that your sports nutrition program is safe and effective.

For More Information

You can subscribe to my Awesome Muscles Podcast to hear about the latest and greatest information about training and nutrition for sports, fitness and health. This is a podcast seminar series, which you can also listen to online or download on to your computer and/or iPod (mp3 player).