It’s not uncommon while watching world-class athletes glide effortlessly across fields, courts, tracks, and rinks, to wonder what it would take for us to do the same. As we know, these performances are far from effortless, and are the result of years of hard work in the field of play, as well as in the gym for hours of weight and cardiovascular training each day. Of course, there’s also careful attention to nutrition – how these athletes fuel their bodies is crucial. And adopting proper nutrition around workouts can also enhance mental focus and mood, which helps to reach peak performance.
What can be gleaned from these athletes that we can apply to our own lives?
Most simply put, we can all find our “inner athlete.” It’s a vigorous lifestyle we can create for ourselves around activity, nutrition, and mental health.
It’s Time to Get Up and Get Moving
Being physically active is one of the most important actions that people of all ages can take to improve their health. Fitness activities, such as walking, running, swimming, resistance exercises, yoga and pilates, are all important components of lifestyle interventions for weight loss and maintenance when combined with a balanced diet. Creating a lifestyle around activity enables you to personalize your program and avoid the boredom of doing the same routine day after day.
According to The Department of Health and Human Services’ second edition Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, regular physical activity, along with proper nutrition, is one of the most important things people can do to improve their health. Health benefits start immediately after exercising, and even short episodes of physical activity are beneficial. The scientific evidence surrounding the health benefits of regular physical activity is well established and continues to provide insight into what works to get people moving.
However, structured exercise is not the only option – a healthy lifestyle can be created around other types of activity. Any activity that raises your heart rate and causes you to sweat should be considered athletic. This can include shooting hoops in the driveway, enjoying a brisk walk, or even mowing the lawn. Realizing the benefits of physical activity in contingent upon our individual efforts to increase activity in ourselves, family, friends, classmates and colleagues.
Making the effort to move more everyday can make a big impact on overall health.
Sports Nutrition is For Everyone, Not Just Athletes
Proper nutrition is not just about eating right and exercising, it’s having a balance of proper nutrition throughout the day. Granted, elite athletes train hard and their nutritional demands are very high, but sports nutrition is based on a solid general nutrition foundation which can be applied to anyone: old, young, athletic or for those just starting on their fitness journey.
Proper nutrition is a personal journey, so here are some tips to stay your course:
- Structure your day around physical activity, starting with a good-quality breakfast.
- During a light to moderate workout, you should drink water, at the very least, and add electrolytes if you need the extra boost. Electrolytes can replace valuable nutrients such as sodium, potassium, magnesium and calcium, which are lost by sweat.
- In a moderate to vigorous workout, you should consider adding carbohydrates to your electrolytes. This combination will not only replace those valuable nutrients but will continuously supply your muscles with the glucose required to maintain your performance.
- It is important to feed your muscles after a workout. Typically, you want to consume good quality calories within 30-45 minutes after a workout to reap the maximum benefit. That said, even if you don’t get calories in during that time it doesn’t mean you should skip a post-workout meal or shake. Consume between 20 and 40 grams of high-quality protein. The protein can come from whole foods such as chicken or fish; however, many people don’t like eating right after a hard workout so a protein shake is a good solution. A post-workout shake can come from dairy (whey or casein) protein or from plant-based sources like soy. Protein rebuilds muscles and ultimately helps to increase lean muscle mass.
In summary, the optimal nutrition philosophy components are balanced nutrition, a personalized program and a healthy, active lifestyle.
Mental Preparation is Key
Like professional athletes, if all of us treat our minds as we do our bodies, we are likely to perform better. Treat the mind the way you treat the physical and technical aspects of your sport. Set realistic goals while enjoying an active lifestyle. The way to maximize athletic performance, is through a holistic approach which includes the mental aspect, through commitment, hard work, and patience.
Unleash Your Inner Athlete to Maximize Your Health
Remember, sports nutrition isn’t just for elite-level athletes anymore. Your workouts aren’t necessarily confined to the gym, the track, or the practice field. If you elevate your heart rate during any activity, then congratulations – you’re an athlete. It doesn’t matter if you’re shooting hoops in the driveway, taking a brisk walk, or just doing some yard work. Follow the tips above to find, and unleash, your inner athlete.