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Nutritional recommendations for recreational and competitive sports

When asked about ways to improve performance in competitive sport, special nutritional measures certainly spring to mind. Ever since people started playing sport, they have been looking for ways to improve their performance through optimised nutrition.
This is particularly important in competitive sport, because the more intensive the training and the higher the level, the more important it is to have an appropriate diet. Failure to pay sufficient attention to this can result in a loss of performance, increased susceptibility to infection, slower recovery times and even an increased risk of injury. Reason enough for us to compile some important facts here and look at the topics of energy intake, nutrient requirements,antioxidants and more.

The energy requirements of athletes

An athlete's energy requirements are primarily based on their actual total metabolic rate - both in recreational and competitive sport. This can vary greatly depending on the type of sport and can be as much as 5 times the basal metabolic rate for professional cyclists or ultramarathon runners, for example.

Only by covering the total requirement can optimum performance be guaranteed and regeneration be shortened as much as possible.
If this additional energy requirement is covered by a needs-based diet, the chance that the necessary nutrients are supplied in sufficient form also increases. This applies in particular to micronutrients, for which the additional requirement does not increase disproportionately to the amount of energy.

Dangers exist in sports where body weight should be kept as low as possible (e.g. gymnasts). Here, athletes sometimes deliberately eat a hypocaloric diet, which can have a negative effect on both health and performance.
Male competitive athletes should therefore not fall below a kcal intake of approx. 2500 per day, while for female athletes the value is approx. 2000 kcal/day.

The right intake of water and electrolytes

Water is probably the most critical nutrient in sport; even a small deficit (approx. 2% water loss in relation to body weight) leads to a drop in performance, especially endurance performance. The main reasons for this are an increase in body temperature and a reduction in the body's ability to transport substances.
A loss of fluids and the resulting dehydration can be a consequence of sweat loss during training, but can also be due to an excessive intake of low-sodium and therefore hypotonic drinks.
From about 1 hour of training, care should be taken to ensure that fluids are consumed periodically; a recommendation for this is approx. 0.8 litres per hour or 0.2 litres every 20 minutes.
The sports drink should be isotonic (number of soluble particles in the drink similar to those in blood plasma) to slightly hypotonic. With hypertonic drinks, hydration occurs easily in the intestinal lumen to dilute the drink. This leads to a temporary loss of fluid and also delays absorption.
In addition, sports drinks should have a certain carbohydrate content (approx. 5% glucose or alternatively 10-15% maltodextrin).
Diluted fruit juice spritzers (ratio of mineral water to fruit juice 2:1) are suitable here, while water is sufficient for short training sessions (< 60 minutes).

The right intake of antioxidants and carbohydrates in competitive sports

Carbohydrates primarily serve as a source of energy and ensure that we can perform at our best during sporting activity. An additional intake of antioxidants should neutralise the training-induced formation of free radicals.

Carbohydrates:

Carbohydrates are and remain the best source of energy for humans. No other nutrient provides the body with as much ATP per litre of oxygen as carbohydrates (approx. 15% more than fat). They are therefore our body's preferred source of energy in aerobic and anaerobic metabolism. Which nutrient the body prefers to burn depends primarily on the respective training intensity. The need for carbohydrates is closely linked to the total energy requirement and depends primarily on this. For competitive athletes, the proportion of total energy intake should be around 60%, for recreational athletes at least 50%.
In relation to body weight, a value of around 5g carbohydrates per kilogramme of body weight is recommended for recreational athletes up to 6-10g carbohydrates per kg of body weight, depending of course on the type of sport, the duration of training and the intensity. The importance of carbohydrates for athletic performance can be explained, among other things, by the type of training described above. The importance of carbohydrates for sports performance can be explained and illustrated by the type of energy production described above, the need for muscle glycogen stores to be as full as possible before training, the maintenance of blood glucose balance during training and the promotion of regeneration.
The higher the intensity of the exercise, the higher the percentage of carbohydrates in energy production (from a certain level - which can only be realised for a very short time if at all - it would even be 100%). If the glycogen depots in the muscles are depleted, the intensity of the exercise can no longer be maintained, resulting in so-called hunger pangs.

In addition to the amount of carbohydrates, the right timing is also very important.

The musculature can store approx. 300g of carbohydrates  (although this can be significantly increased through training and the associated tissue adaptation), the liver an additional 100g.

The almost complete depletion of the stores serves as a signal to the body to replenish the glycogen stores as quickly as possible or even to supercompensate the stores. During prolonged physical exertion, it is advisable to consume carbohydrates in the form of drinks; the optimum amount here is approx. 40-50g of carbohydrates per hour, preferably in the form of glucose, sucrose or maltodextrins. After training, it is important to replenish the stores quickly after the end of the sporting activity for regeneration purposes. The rule of thumb for this is approx. 1-1.5g of carbohydrates per kg of body weight within 2-3 hours after training. Carbohydrates with a rather high glycaemic index are also preferable here.


Contrary to what is often claimed, additional protein intake does not increase glycogen synthesis, but can have a positive effect on muscle tissue repair.


A cocoa drink with fruit, e.g. sultanas and cornflakes, is recommended.

Nutrients with antioxidant effects:

It is known that sporting activity and the associated energy and oxygen consumption leads to an increased formation of free radicals. These can damage the body's own structures such as the muscles and, in particular, increase lipid peroxidation.

Depending on the training status of the individual, untrained people react more sensitively to free radicals or oxidative stress than trained people, as the latter have already experienced an increase in the enzyme activity of radical-neutralising enzymes.
However, it seems more than questionable whether this endogenous system is sufficient to neutralise this additional stress. The intake of antioxidant substances such as vitamin C, vitamin E and also secondary plant substances such as bioflavonoids or carotenoids (ß-carotene, lutein, etc.) has a positive influence on radical inactivation and probably also on maintaining health in old age. Studies have shown an improvement in the immune status and lower susceptibility to injury in athletes. More detailed studies are needed here to obtain definitive and reliable results.

Protein in competitive sport:

Protein or  protein is certainly the most discussed macronutrient in popular and competitive sports. A sufficient protein intake should contribute in particular to muscle growth or the maintenance of muscles, increase performance, improve the muscle-fat ratio, prevent a catabolic (degrading) metabolic state and optimise regeneration.

So you can see at first glance that protein is closely linked to almost all important processes and therefore its intake requires special attention.

The requirement is definitely higher in athletes regardless of whether they are doing a strength-orientated sport or endurance sport. Contrary to popular belief, the requirement is higher in endurance athletes than in strength athletes, as protein is used as an energy source during extensive exercise.  In relation to the total amount of energy, a recommendation of approx. 15-20 energy per cent can be made, analogous to approx. 1.7 g protein per kg body weight.  Another important factor is the fact that certain amino acids stimulate the secretion of insulin, growth hormone and IGF-1 (insulin-like growth factor) and therefore make an important contribution to muscle building and regeneration, provided you train appropriately. In addition to the high protein intake, you should also increase the amount you drink to reduce the strain on your kidneys. Around 1.5 litres per day is sufficient.

As with carbohydrates, the right timing also plays a major role with proteins. Protein biosynthesis can be demonstrably stimulated by protein intake before and after training (within 1 hour before and after respectively).

It is better to use a multi-component protein consisting of pea protein and soya protein rather than isolated amino acids. Vegans should choose a plant-based multi-component protein with the highest possible BW. All in all, animal protein has a slightly higher biological value, but there is a risk of increased purine and fat intake.

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Fat in competitive sport:

Fats have the highest energy density of all nutrients at approx. 9.3 kcal/ , but the energy yield during fat oxidation is lower than that of carbohydrates.  Extensive endurance training and fasting training can train fat metabolism - especially ß-oxidation - so that fats are increasingly used as an energy source and the valuable carbohydrate reserves are spared. While carbohydrates can only be stored in the body to a limited extent, the possible depot of body fat is practically unlimited. 

As there are no studies that have shown a positive effect of a high intake on physical performance, the proportion of total energy intake should not exceed 30-35%. The focus here should primarily be on polyunsaturated fatty acids and secondarily on monounsaturated fatty acids. Among other things, this has a positive influence on the muscles' ability to regenerate and can also reduce the risk of injury.

Good sources include linseed oil, rapeseed oil and nuts.

Conclusion:

  • The energy intake must be adapted to the actual circumstances and the goals. A hypocaloric diet harbours a number of physical risks and should be avoided.
  • From a training duration of 60 minutes, fluids should be consumed at intervals of approx. 20 minutes. The drink should be isotonic; diluted fruit juice spritzers are recommended.The proportion of carbohydrates in the total energy intake should be at least 50% (preferably even more), corresponding to approx. 5g per kg bw for recreational athletes and 6-10g per kg bw for competitive athletes.
  • For endurance sports, drinks containing carbohydrates should be consumed during exercise, and carbohydrate stores should be topped up after training (approx. 1.5g per kg bw), preferably carbohydrates with a high GI.
  • Sportspeople should take additional antioxidants to neutralise the increased radical activity and prevent muscle injuries.
  • The protein intake should be a maximum of 1.7g per kg of body weight, and a protein-rich meal should be consumed before and after training.
  • The proportion of animal and vegetable protein should be 50% each.
  • Fat intake should not exceed 30-35% of total energy intake.
  • Until then
    Your nutri+ team