Nutritional Support for Athletes.

Nutrition is a vast topic of on-going research. It involves supplementing the athlete needs with adequate resources to maintain peak performance. Sports Medicine has dedicated branches focusing on this field. Exhaustive literature and research become confusing for an amateur athlete and most of them tend to follow hearsay from their trainers, colleagues and friends. This sometimes predisposes them to being under or over nourished which may have detrimental effects on body organs and their performances.

Vast variety of supplements have made it difficult to get to the right choice.

The article will focus primarily on the nutritional requirements and importance of supplementing in athletes. We will also try to focus on the type of supplements and their specific roles in diet. There are many ways to classify the needs or the athlete, this article will share requirements with regards to quantity of type of food necessary.

Need of supplementation:

  1. Supplements are concentrated source of energy and building blocks of body.
  2. Low quantity (per gram weight) provides more energy as compared to a meal/diet
  3. Specific needs are met. e.g.: BCAA (branch chain amino acids)
  4. Easily digestible form
  5. Easy to prepare serving
  6. Prevent post workout soreness
  7. Helps early recovery
  8. Prevent muscle breakdown
  9. Recruits new muscle units.
  10. Prevent risk of injury and improves endurance.
Supplements increase exercise endurance and decrease injuries in athletes.


Often considered as the most ‘dangerous’ type of food by the amateur athletes. There are different proponents of dietary regimes which are based on fats and proteins as chief sources of energy. All regimens are based on thorough clinical research but cannot be generalized.

As a general going for recreational athletes, carbohydrates should form at least half of the caloric requirements and the rest should be distributed in form of proteins followed by fats. Following a conventional ‘balanced diet’ meets the need of a majority of athletes with supplementation of alternative forms of proteins(concentrates/simple).

Few diet modifications that can enhance performance include:

  • Carb loading at least 2-3 days before the event
  • Post-exercise meal (carb + protein) at least within 30-60 mins (50/50)
  • Avoid starchy/sweet food 1 hour before the event
  • Adequate hydration prevents parching (sweat loss and metabolic demands)
  • Energy drinks with electrolytes will help improve efficiency.
  • Avoid food with abundant fat at least 6 hours before the event.


Form the most basic unit structural unit of muscles. Adequate intake of protein is necessary to maintain and increase the strength and number of muscle units recruited during the exercise. It is advocated to supplement post workout energy void with about 40 percent of protein. While demands of recreational athletes are met by the balanced diet, elite athletes might require concentrated forms of easily digestible proteins. There are different categories of workout supplements available in the market. Usual requirement is about 1.0-1.2 g per kg body weight in a person not doing any form of exercise. This may go upto 1.7-2.2 g per kg body weight in high performance athletes. These include:

Whey protein : Whey Protein is a mixture of proteins isolated from the liquid part of milk that separates when cheese is made. It is then processed to become a powder. It is fast digesting. Constitutes about 20% of milk protein

Type of protein
Whey concentrateWhey isolatesCasein
Protein content(28g)High (22g)Very high (25g)High (24g)
CarbohydratesLow(1.7g)Very low(0.2g)Low(3g)
FatLow (2g)Very low (0.3g)Low (1g)
Table : Comparison between the different types of protein supplements available.

Both types digest and absorb into bloodstream quickly. The concentrate is a less processed form which has slightly more fat and carbs as compared to the isolate. Isolate may be a good choice for those who selectively want to reduce fat or carb intake. This form is relatively more expensive than concentrates.

The right quantity and type of protein is important for an athlete.

Casein: This form of protein is extracted from the curd after cheese is made from the milk. It is a slowly digesting protein form and has high amount of fat and carbs along with proteins. This forms the major source of protein from milk (about 80%) and releases proteins slowly in circulation over long period of time.

FATS : All attention is provided in the name of nutrition on proteins. We often miss the importance of fats in our diet and role of fats in exercise nutrition. They are only considered in the negative way. It should be understood that different variety of fats(saturated, unsaturated) have their own role:

  • Provides energy in long duration exercises
  • Provides insulation to the body
  • Also processes anti-oxidative properties
  • Delays ageing
  • Plays an important role in muscle membrane stabilisation
  • Important carrier for fat soluble vitamins (A,E,D,K)
  • Protects body from impact in sports and injury prevention.
Fats play an essential role in performance of all athletes and should be considered an essential part of diet.

Saturated: Yogurt, butter, meat, cheese. Forms the bad cholesterol (LDL/VLDL). Should definitely be <10 percent of diet.

Unsaturated: Omega 3,6,9 fatty acids. Important to ingest. They help in building oxidative capacity and reduce free radical damage and stabilise muscle membranes. Nuts such as almonds, hazelnuts. Oils such as olive oil, sunflower oil, fish etc.

The Fat stores are meant for survival and it is typically essential for endurance athletes or where competition lasts more than 90 mins.

The role of micronutrients, water and fibre in diet can not be over emphasised. We shall discuss the role of purified synthetic protein and food supplements(micronutrients) in the succeeding article.

Stay healthy, Eat well !!

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