The general public often think that carbohydrate loading is a healthy diet for sport. This is the case if you are taking part in long endurance events, but anyone else who is a regular gym goer or plays team sports it is not necessarily the case.
You need to eat a diet that is tailored to the demands of your training and competition schedule, including eating adequate carbohydrate and protein, proportionately low in healthy fats and balanced in all other nutrients. Careful timing of your meals and snacks around training and competition is also equally important.
Guidelines for a healthy balanced diet for sport
- Eat a variety of foods each day
- Eat regular meals
- Eat good quality proteins in every meal e.g. meat, fish, cheese, eggs or beans, lentils, pulses or nuts, with main meals.
- Fruit and vegetables should be a main player in your diet with at least 5 servings a day.
- Eat potatoes, pasta, rice, bread and breakfast cereals around training and games as these provide carbohydrate for energy.
- Eat some milk and dairy products
- Keep well hydrated by drinking plenty of fluid throughout the day. Drink plenty of water and try to keep sugary and fizzy drinks to a minimum.
Carbohydrates, fats and protein are the major macronutrients in food and all provide the body with energy for exercise, although protein is of less importance as an energy source compared with carbohydrate and fat.
During low intensity exercise such as going for a brisk walk or your muscles utilise a greater proportion of fat as fuel and a smaller proportion of carbohydrate. The longer you walk the more of each fuel you use. As the exercise intensity increases e.g. from walking to running, your body will rely more upon carbohydrate as a source of fuel as it supplies energy quickly for faster contracting muscles.
The preferred fuel source for high intensity exercise is glucose, formed from the breakdown of carbohydrates in your diet. Glucose is stored as glycogen in your liver and muscles where it is readily available as a source of energy for your body. However your muscles are only capable of storing a limited amount of glycogen and during exercise this is used to supply your muscles with energy. As glycogen is burned up, and as stores decrease, both physical and mental fatigue can set in.
It is a sensible idea to consume during exercise. You can get carbohydrates in the form of sports drinks or sports gels. During exercise you should aim to consume between 30 and 60 g of carbohydrate per hour along with water.