Vanessa Rodriguez is currently studying to become a Registered Holistic Nutritionist and blogs daily at Vanessa Runs. She is currently training to run her first ultra marathon this spring, and enjoys experimenting with natural sports nutrition.
When most people hear the phrase “sports nutrition,” they usually immediately think of some sort of supplement or performance-enhancing drug. The priority is very much on performance and much less on balance and wellbeing and sustainable nutritional habits.
As a student of holistic nutrition, I believe in working to enhance both the immediate and long-term goals of any athlete. I also believe that in many ways working towards a more well-rounded, natural, nutritional balance will directly contribute to improved performance. Good food can help you feel more energized, heal rapidly, and recover faster.
I believe that supplementation is a tool. In some cases, particularly for career athletes who train intensely and demand extraordinary feats from their bodies, it may be necessary. It may also be useful for people who are battling an illness, pregnant women, vegans and vegetarians (more on that later), or people who cannot eat often enough to meet their dietary requirements. Ultimately, consuming all our nutrients from whole, live, real foods is always preferable (thought not always realistic).
For most of us regular exercisers, there are usually basic changes we can make towards a more natural diet that will both enhance performance and make us feel better about being active. In the following sections I will discuss four nutrients that we most commonly supplement, and how to incorporate these nutrients into our diets naturally through food.
Protein powders have become increasingly popular, particularly with men who are trying to build muscle. I find that most people tend to overestimate the amount of protein they need. Unless you are bodybuilding, most of us should be able to meet our protein requirements through food.
Before I started any type of nutritional education, I was seeing a sports nutritionist. The first thing he did was put me on a protein powder. There was no discussion of consuming protein through foods, and I feel that was wrong. Supplements should supplement, not act as the primary source of nutrients. Eventually I stopped seeing him and made far greater advances on my own through a natural diet.
Protein is essential for muscle growth and repair, as well as recovery. For endurance athletes, if is often also used as a fuel source after our glycogen stores are depleted. But how much do we actually need? A general guideline is as follows:
For the average, inactive individual = 0.34g of protein per pound of body weight (per day)
For endurance athletes (long distance running) = 0.5-0.6g of protein per pound of body weight (per day)
For strength and power athletes (weight lifting and body building) = 0.6-0.8g of protein per pound of body weight (per day)
If you are eating a wide variety of foods, you are likely already getting enough protein. However, if you cut out entire food groups, perhaps due to a vegetarian diet or a dairy allergy, you may be having trouble meeting your requirements. Animal proteins are usually higher in essential amino acids, but may also be high in saturated fats. If you eat meat, choose lean cuts and try to stick to game meat as much as possible (more on vegetarians in another section).
Once you are meeting your daily protein requirements, excess protein will not enhance performance or muscle mass. Consuming excessive protein may be hard on your liver. Healthy protein sources include meat, fish, nuts, seeds, whole grains and cereals.
Next: Other Necessary Nutrients