Achieving high levels of athletic performance is not just about mastering the physical and mental aspects of your sport; it is also about ensuring you have a solid foundation made up of proper nutrition, hydration, and quality sleep. When these physiological elements are in sync with both, mental and physical components, peak performance results can be seen on the field! Here, I am going to mention the basics of nutrition. Later, sleep and hydration will be discussed in other blog posts.
Energy metabolism is fuel for exercise and human movement. Energy metabolism means using the food consumed to store energy in the form of adenosine triphosphate (ATP). The ATP breakdown produces energy causing the muscle to contract. Metabolism means “to change” and includes anabolism (to build up), for example, the use of amino acids to make the proteins that provide muscle mass. Catabolism (breakdown) is also a process for metabolism, for example, breaking down glycogen (stored glucose) to pyruvic acid for ATP production. ATP is the only source of energy for muscle contraction, and enough ATP defines our ability to perform physical activity (Housh, Housh, & DeVries, 2016).
In simple words,
“The athlete’s diet should take into consideration the metabolic demands of the type of sport or exercise activity. Fueling correctly is vital for optimal performance!”
The availability of carbohydrates is essential to exercise capacity (pre-exercise muscle glycogen stores and the amount of carbohydrates ingested). A low carbohydrate diet leads to low muscle glycogen stores, poor exercise capacity, and fatigue. After muscle glycogen is depleted, the body relies on the metabolism of fat and amino acids (muscles) to produce ATP. However, the metabolism of fat to produce energy is slow, and the exercise pace also slows because less ATP is produced. After glycogen depletion, it can take from 24 to 48 hours to fully restore glycogen levels. On the other hand, appropriate diet and exercise can improve muscle glycogen stores and maximize the oxidation of fat, resulting in improved performance, decreased fat mass, and increased muscle mass (Abernethy et al., 2005).
Let’s summarize it, the athlete’s exercise capacity is determined by the amount of energy the muscle can produce and how fast this energy is made available to use. If the energy demands exceed the rate of energy production in the skeletal muscle, fatigue occurs. Or, I should say that whatever the athlete consumes will have a direct effect on performance. Athletes know that they should not eat junk food; however, it is not only about the quality of the macronutrients. The quantity and the percentage of carbohydrates, protein, and fat also vary depending on the intensity of your training and the periods of competition or noncompetition.
Do you think that a poor diet will also affect your mental game? Let’s say, you are competing many times during the day. Suddenly, you feel demotivated, anxious, shaking, and fearful, with many negative thoughts popping up in your mind. Then you compete again and lose; now you blame your mental preparation. However, it may not have anything to do with your mental game, and all those signs happen because of energy depletion. Remember, the states of our body also influence the states of our mind, and both influence performance.
To sum things up, your body is your tool for success, and taking care of it through appropriate nutrition is essential for reaching peak performance and achieving your goals. Your hard work in physical and mental training can be rendered useless without the proper fueling of your body. That is why it is important to seek professional advice from certified professionals in athletic nutrition so that you are able to optimize your performance. The diet trends publicized on the internet or tips offered by influencers on social media are far from sufficient for athletes seeking improved performance. As an athlete, you might feel tempted to follow whatever nutritional trend you think best works for you; vegan, gluten-free, paleo, and so on. No problem, but at the same time, you must remember that your daily activity requires a certain amount of energy to back up its intensity with adequate nutrients. Those calculations are not guesses but made specifically to the intensity of your training and periods of competition or non-competition. So, invest in your physical and mental preparation, but also pay attention to nutrition accordingly. And if all those components work together harmoniously, results will soon follow.
Andrea C. Dias, MA, ABSP
Masters in Sport and Performance Psychology
American Board of Sport Psychology; Board Certified Sport Performance Consultan
Abernethy, B., Hanrahan, S. J., Kippers, V., Mackinnon, L. T., Pandy, M. G. (2005). The biophysical foundations of human movement. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
Housh, T., Housh, D. & DeVries, H. (2016). Applied exercise & sport physiology with labs. (4th ed). Scottsdale, Arizona: Holcomb Hathaway, Publishers.