Athletes need to fuel themselves properly

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In order to ensure peak performance during their sports season, athletes must take into consideration a variety of factors, foremost among them nutrition. Some athletes swear by their strict or sometimes extreme diet regiments, but for most, a moderate, balanced diet is the best course of action.

The ideal nutritional plan for different athletes varies on the sport and type of training they do. Often, they need to consume more calories than the 2,000-per-day average. Frequent snacks and larger meals can provide the necessary caloric consumption. Young athletes need even more calories to sustain their developmental growth as well as athletic performance, according to TeensHealth. Three important food groups help them get the nutrients they need to stay fit: carbohydrates, fats and protein.

Carbohydrates provide fuel for cardio workouts, which is why some athletes the night before their game or race will carb load. Healthy carbs include fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Complex rather than simple carbs provide the most fuel for athletes because they release energy over a longer period of time. Simple carbs provide energy for shorter bursts of time,  according to familydoctor.org.

Not all fats are bad. The extra energy stored in fats can sustain athletes during long workouts, as WebMD explains. Healthy fats are those found in natural vegetable oils, avocado, nuts, and fish such as tuna and salmon.

Protein builds muscle, which is most important for those who train with weights, but it does not amount to the important source of nutrition nor caloric intake. Sources of protein include lean meat, poultry, eggs, dairy and nuts. Additionally, many doctors are now making the case for chocolate milk as a post-workout beverage. “Milk is one of the best foods for recovery after an event, because it provides a good balance of protein and carbohydrates,” sports dietician Joy Dubost said.

Especially in Florida, what athletes drink is just as important as what they eat. If they do not consume enough fluids, they may feel the effects of dehydration, which include dizziness, cramps, nausea and increased heart rate. In more severe cases, dehydration can cause heat exhaustion or heat stroke, which can lead to death if not treated, according to familydoctor.org.

Sports drinks replenish depleted electrolytes, but they mostly help during long, high intensity workouts, and they can contain high levels of sugar and sodium. For most other workouts, athletes can hydrate enough by drinking water. They should drink before, during and after physical activity to maintain proper levels of hydration, with experts recommending that players drink every 15 to 20 minutes during exercise.

While athletes should be conscious of what they put into their bodies, focusing too much on nutrition can lead to an unhealthy relationship with food, according to Sports Dietitians Australia. The most important thing to remember is nutrition must help athletes maintain their health and boost their performance rather than serve as a way to achieve a certain body type.

With proper nutrition and hydration practices, athletes can perform and feel better doing what they love.

Olivia Lloyd is a senior hailing from South Florida. In addition to newspaper, she has worked on the staff of Expressions Literary Magazine and is an editor of Spotlight Yearbook. Additionally, she is co-founder and co-editor-in-chief of Pressing the Future, an online international news organization. She has a passion for both journalistic and creative writing. Outside of the writing sphere, she is a cross-country runner and social rights activist.

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