Exercising four to five days per week is encouraged for every individual no matter their age. For the average person, walking, running, swimming, biking, tennis, or weight lifting, to name a few, are all excellent examples of exercise. However, moderate to intense exercise is usually reserved for the elite athlete who plays sports competitively or those training for distance races, whether biking, running, or swimming. Regardless, if you are exercising to compete competitively or to stay healthy, exercise is vital for a well-rounded life.
Benefits of exercise include weight loss, lowered blood pressure, decreased lipid levels, reduced risk of heart diseases, and reduced risk of metabolic disturbances. Exercise also has a positive impact on the emotional and mental state due to the release of endorphins, also known as the ‘happy hormone.’ Proper nutrition goes hand-in-hand with exercise as it is necessary to fuel your body appropriately so it can successfully expend energy while exercising. Generally, carbohydrates and protein are critical components for a beneficial workout. Water is also essential because you are losing water through sweat while exercising. It is vital to put back in more water than was taken out.
For elite athletes, the foundational nutrients that should be consumed are slightly more than that of the average person. This is because athletes are performing at a higher level for more extended periods. This type of energy expenditure requires not only more calories but also more carbohydrates, protein, healthy fats, and water.
The primary source of food that supplies our body with energy is called carbohydrates or carbs. Carbs include food items, such as bread, pasta, rice, potatoes, and cereal. Carbs are broken down into glucose, which is then transported to every cell in your body. Trying to workout without carbs becomes incredibly challenging because the body will have to pull the energy from stored fat. While this sounds intriguing for the average person, an elite athlete may not be able to perform optimally because the body has to work harder to pull energy stores from fat rather than the easily accessible carbs.
While healthy fats, such as avocados, nuts, and seeds provide energy, they also provide essential nutrients that are critical for the body to function appropriately. Fats should be limited to saturated fats rather than unsaturated fats. Consuming fats in excess can lead to weight gain and can increase the risk of heart disease. However, for high-performance athletes, healthy fats are of utmost importance to supply energy and nutrients.
Protein, in the case of athletes, has little to do with supplying energy and more to do with muscle building and repair. Throughout the exercise process, muscles are being broken down from the strain of the workout. They are then built back up after the exercise is complete, which causes the muscles to grow larger. Without enough protein, muscles have a difficult time rebuilding. Types of protein include eggs, meat, fish, beans, and nuts.
If you are training to compete, speak with a registered dietician to discuss further nutritional needs, including the number of calories that should be consumed daily. This factor will alter based on age, weight, and exercise level.