When it comes to improving athletic performance, sports specific training (SST) is the first thing that most people think of, and for good reason. Focusing on functional exercises that translate directly into your sport can be an effective means of improving your capabilities on the field.
But SST is only one tool of many you can use to improve your athleticism. Nutrition and supplementation are also important and often overlooked components of athletic performance. No matter how much time you put into your training, it will be difficult to make improvements in your performance if your nutrition is not on point.
For those of you looking to increase your competitive edge, we are sharing 9 things you can do outside of your training to help you perform at the best of your abilities in the gym and on the field.
Nutrition Tips to Improve Athletic Performance
The nutrients that we take in through our diets go hand and hand with our ability to perform athletically. If we want to be able to perform at the peak of our abilities, we need to be eating the right foods at the right times.
So what does this actually mean?
Well, if you want to improve your athletic performance, you should not simply be eating just to eat — everything that you put into your body should have a specific purpose. Furthermore, the function of the food you eat changes depending on when you are consuming it.
For instance, the food you take in before a workout or competition should be designed to fuel your performance, whereas the food consumed afterward, should be designed to replenish nutrients and support recovery following intense exercise.
1. Consume a Healthy Breakfast
One of the first things that you can do to bolster your athleticism is to eat a healthy and strategically designed breakfast. Getting a healthy supply of carbs, proteins, and fats first thing in the morning will help to fuel your muscles, trigger your metabolism, and prevent muscle protein breakdown (MPB).
2. Fuel Your Performance
Another important time to consume a meal is between 3-4 hours before your workout, practice, or game. This meal should contain plenty of complex carbohydrates to fuel your performance and also an adequate supply of lean protein to attenuate MPB during strenuous exercise.
3. Replenish Your Body’s Nutrients Immediately After Intense Exercise
Sports specific training can indeed help to improve your performance on the field, but in order to reap the benefits of your training, you must replenish your body’s nutrients immediately after your workout.
Intense exercise can cause damage within your muscle fibers, which in turn must be repaired by the body. Without an ample supply of protein following training, your body cannot adequately rebuild damaged muscle tissues, which can lead to losses in muscle mass.
In order to cash in on all of the work you are putting in at the gym, make sure that you are taking in somewhere between 20 to 40 grams of protein within an hour after your workout. Your body is incredibly receptive to nutrients following intense exercise and when properly replenished, is better able to respond and adapt to exercise-based stimulation.
Furthermore, aim to consume at least 40 to 80 grams of carbs after your workout; the goal should be to consume a 2:1 ratio of carbs to protein following intense training. Doing so will replenish the energy in your muscles and help your body to recover and rebuild following an intense bout of training.
4. Consume Complex Carbs and Minimize Simple Sugars in Your Diet
When it comes to providing us with energy, all carbohydrates are not equal. While simple sugars like glucose and fructose may make food taste good, they are an inefficient source of fuel for optimal athletic performance and can even compromise your health when consumed in high quantities.
Ever heard of a sugar rush or a sugar crash? Simple sugars are an inefficient fuel source because they produce quick spikes and rapid crashes in energy, which makes them a less than ideal source of energy to fuel your athletic performance.
Instead of simple sugars, your carbohydrate intake should mainly consist of complex carbs like those found in oats, sweet potatoes, and brown rice. Compared to simple sugars, complex carbs don’t produce peaks or crashes when it comes to your energy supply. Instead, you get a steady and consistent supply of energy over a longer period of time, which is ideal for maximizing your capabilities in the gym and on the field.
5. Drink Plenty of Water But Not Too Much
Staying properly hydrated throughout the day and especially during your athletic performance is crucial for making sure your body is able to perform at its best. A fluid intake of between 600 and 1200 milliliters (20 – 40 ozs) an hour is an absolute must during intense exercise.
When our bodies are placed under extended periods of physical stress, we lose significant amounts of fluid through perspiration. In order to prevent our bodies from breaking down during athletic performances, we need to be actively replenishing our fluids by consuming plenty of water.
Although it might be tempting to down mass amounts of water during intense exercise, you want to stay in the 600 – 1200 ml/hr range. When you consume more than that, it can cause bloating and nausea, which can really get in the way of your ability to perform at your best in the moments when it matters most.
Supplementation Tips to Improve Athletic Performance
6. Take Vitamin and Mineral Supplements
When it comes to getting all the nutrients you need to perform at the best of your abilities, sometimes simply focusing on the foods you eat may not be enough. While our diets can provide us with plenty of macronutrients, they may not contain an adequate supply of micronutrients, also known as vitamins and minerals.
Just like with macronutrients, our bodies require a steady supply of micronutrients to properly function. The only difference is that our bodies need a much smaller amount of micronutrients in comparison to macronutrients — hence the micro and macro prefixes.
Even so, it can be difficult to get all of the micronutrients you need through diet alone, especially if you are an athlete. Vitamin and mineral deficiencies can impinge on a number of bodily functions, which in turn can drastically impact your ability to perform at your best.
One of the easiest ways to fulfill your body’s vitamin and mineral needs is through supplementation. Complementing your diet with a multivitamin supplement containing healthy doses of things link vitamin A, C, D, and E, as well as minerals like iron, zinc, and magnesium, is an easy and effective means of keeping your micronutrients levels balanced.
7. Take Legal and Safe Performance Enhancing Supplements
While things like steroids and HGH have given the term “performance enhancer” a bad rap, there are actually a number of safe, legal and popular supplements that can help to improve your athletic performance.
An ergogenic aid or “performance enhancer” refers to any substance that significantly enhances the user’s high-intensity athletic output.
Ergogenic supplements interact with the body in a number of different ways. For example, some ergogenic supplements, such as caffeine, work by stimulating the central nervous system (CNS). This helps to provide the user with more available energy during performances.
Caffeine is by far the most popular ergogenic aid and is featured in thousands of different pre-workout supplements. At healthy doses, it can be safely used in all sports.
Ergogenic aids can also be used to stimulate other bodily functions as well. Supplements like creatine and Beta-Alanine (BA) can increase the energy supply within our muscles, neutralize lactic acid buildup, and deliver more oxygen to our muscles. All of which helps to improve athletic performance both in the gym and on the field. Creatine and BA are safe to use when recommended dosages are followed and are WADA and USADA approved.
8. Take Supplements that Promote Muscle Protein Synthesis
Other types of ergogenic aids help to improve athletic performance by increasing your ability to build muscle. While anabolic steroids are incredibly effective at promoting muscle growth, there are also plenty of health risks associated with them and as a consequence, they are banned by WADA and USADA for use in sports.
With that being said, there are a number of safe, non-banned supplements that are still plenty effective in promoting gains in strength and size. High-intensity exercise causes muscle breakdown and in order to rebuild and recover, your body needs to be in an elevated state of muscle protein synthesis (MPS).
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When taken at appropriate dosages, supplements like HICA, HMB, and phosphatidic acid (PA) are safe and have been found effective in increasing MPS.
In basic terms, supplements like HICA work by activating a series of signaling pathways within the body that increase muscle protein synthesis. Over time, when combined with resistance exercise, elevated levels of MPS lead to gains in muscle size and strength.
9. Take Supplements that Promote Recovery
Resistance training can be an effective mean of improving your athletic capabilities, but it can also lead to losses in muscle mass and strength when your body is over stressed. Intense exercise can cause breakdowns in muscle tissue leading to recovery and performance issues when your body does not have the nutrients it needs.
Luckily there are a number of safe and non-banned supplements that can help you to recover more quickly from intense physical stress. Amino acids are the building blocks of muscle and when supplemented in your diet, can be an incredibly effective means of attenuating muscle loss and promoting recovery following a workout.
Here are a few different amino acids that are commonly taken by athletes to promote muscle recovery and peak performance:
When it comes to improving your athletic performance, consuming the right nutrients at the right times is key. In order to perform at your best, load up on plenty of carbohydrates 3-4 hours before intense exercise and take in an ample supply of both protein and carbs within an hour after your workout.
Supplementation can also help to improve your performance in the gym and on the field. Multivitamins can provide your body with the micronutrients it needs to function at its bests. Ergogenic aids can help to improve your endurance and strength during exercise/competition. Amino acids can help to prevent muscle protein breakdown as well as promote quicker recovery following intense exercise.