The Current Top 10 Nutrition Tips
THE CURRENT TOP 10 NUTRITION TIPS
…for Keeping Athletes Healthy, Preventing Injuries and Achieving Maximum Performance
Written By: Angela Dufour, MEd, RD, CSSD, IOC Dip Sports Nutr, CFE
Lead Performance Dietitian
Injuries can come with the territory for many athletes. But proper nutrition can help get your athlete back in the game. Follow our top 10 Nutrition Tips to speed up recovery and shorten the healing time after an injury.
1. Get Enough Energy In
It is important that athletes are well fueled to support health, growth, training and recovery demands.
If an athlete is showing signs of negative health and performance it may be because they are not getting enough total energy compared to the energy required to support their training (1). This condition is known as Relative Energy Deficiency in Sport (RED-S). This energy deficit can cause:
a. Menstrual dysfunction,
b. Decreased bone health,
c. Decreased immune function,
d. Poor growth/development,
e. Decreased training and performance
f. Disruption in metabolic function
It is important that coaches and parents recognize the signs and symptoms when athletes may be in a negative energy balance. Some may include:
- Frequent injuries
- Decreased coordination/concentration
- Decreased endurance performance/Fatigue
- Upset stomach
- Poor sleep
Keeping athletes healthy is the best “medicine”. Choosing a well-balanced nutrition plan, avoiding skipping eating times and enjoying a variety of nutritious foods is the key to success.
2. Get Enough Carbohydrates
Carbohydrates are an important source of energy and nutrients and allows protein to be used for repair. Athletes looking to recover from injury should focus on getting enough carbohydrates: 3-5grams/kg of body weight, per day (2). This would mean that for a 50kg athlete, one should get a minimum of 150g – 250g of carbohydrates per day. Focus on including whole grains, fruits, and starchy vegetables and dairy at each eating time to meet these needs.
3. Get Enough Protein
Protein is important for repairing damaged muscle tissue. During injury recovery, protein needs are even higher than usual to help avoid muscle losses (2). Daily protein needs during recovery can be as high as~1.6-2.5 grams/kg of body weight per day For example, a 50kg athlete would need ~80-125g of protein per day.
Parents and coaches can encourage frequent breaks in training to allow for enough carbohydrates and protein to be consumed during long training days.
4. Keep Hydrated
Athletes who are even slightly dehydrated can experience poor concentration, fatigue, and changes in mood. Athletes’ fluid needs will vary by individual because of various sweat losses during training (2).
A pale-yellow (straw) urine colour indicates good balance of fluid and electrolytes. Electrolytes include, sodium, potassium, chloride, calcium, magnesium and phosphate and are important for fluid absorption and nerve function. Athletes should not be afraid to consume some salty foods in periods of heavy sweating or hot humid training conditions and may benefit from an electrolyte drink. Consult a Registered Sport Dietitian for specific recommendations. Sports drinks can also be a great option, visit the Coach’s Kitchen for a homemade balanced carbohydrate/electrolyte drink.
5. Get Your Antioxidants
Numerous research has proven the health and training benefits of certain nutrients in foods; mainly antioxidants. Antioxidants are important for athletes to help reduce muscle/tissue damage caused by the on-going physical stress from training. The main antioxidant vitamins are:
1. Vitamin C
Supports: wound healing, iron absorption, growth/repair of bones, teeth, skin and other tissues and supports the immune system (3). This vitamin cannot be produced by the body which means athletes must meet requirements through diet. Vitamin C can be found in primarily fruits and vegetables such as:
- Green/red peppers
- Orange juice
- Apple juice
- Fortified milk
Recommendations for vitamin C are 90mg/day for males and 75mg/day for females (4). Extra high intakes can cause stomach upset and should be cautioned.
2. Vitamin D
Also known as the sunshine vitamin, it is produced in our skin when we soak up some sun (5). It can also be found in supplements and a small number of foods, such as wild oily fish, egg yolks and fortified foods such as milk (5). Vitamin D is important for athletes as it plays a key role in maintaining bone health (5). There is also research supporting a link between vitamin D and injury prevention and reduced inflammation (6). The International Olympic Committee (IOC) now recommends supplementation of between 1000-2000 International Units (IU)/day (6).
You may be at risk for Vitamin D deficiency if you:
- Train indoors
- Wear sunscreen of 15 SPF or greater
- Have darker skin
- Train fully clothed ex. Skiers
- Live/train only in Canada in the winter
3. Vitamin E
Plays a role in immune function and is important for athletes to ward off common sickness during heavy training periods, travel cold/flu seasons. Most athletes can meet their vitamin E needs (15mg/day, (2)) through foods, such as (7):
- Wheat germ cereal (1/4 cup = 5mg)
- Sunflower Seeds (1/4 cup = 10mg)
- Almonds (1/4 cup = 18mg)
4. Vitamin A
Helps keep eyes healthy while also promoting growth and development (8). Vitamin A can be found in foods from both animal and plant food sources. The highest sources of vitamin A are in liver, dairy products and fish (8). Vitamin A from plant sources can be found in dark green, yellow, orange and red fruits and vegetables (8). Requirements for vitamin A vary, refer to Table 2.
Table 2. Vitamin A Recommendations (8)
Age in Years Intake Recommendation (mcg/day) Do Not Exceed in Animal Sources Men 19 and older 900 3000 Women 19 and older 700 3000 Pregnant Women 19 and older 770 3000 Breastfeeding Women 19 and older 1300 3000
6. Get Your Daily Dose of Anti-inflammatory Foods
Pain, swelling, and redness are all part of the healing process when an injury has occurred (9), which is why it is important for athletes to regularly consume foods that have natural anti-inflammatory properties. These include:
- Curcumin (Turmeric): used to help with digestion and to speed up wound healing (10). Try incorporating a small amount by adding a teaspoon to foods like a smoothie, stirfrys, etc.
- Green tea: a powerful anti-inflammatory food (11), but important to keep in mind that green tea can contain high amounts of caffeine. Athletes under 18 years old should consider a decaffeinated option. Try incorporating a cup of green tea in the morning during times of high physical stress.
- Tart Cherry Juice: Has anti-inflammatory effects taken at ~12-24oz/day.
- Ginger: A powerful anti-inflammatory nutrient at ~2g/day! That’s a lot of ginger! (10).
- Omega-3 fats (see tip 7)
Seek a Registered Sports Dietitian prior to any supplementation or added intake of any food item
7. Go Fish!
Omega 3 fats (Alpha linoleic acid; ALA, Ecosohexanoic Acid; EPA, Docosahexanoic Acid; DHA) are healthy fats found in plants and fish sources. Omega 3s are especially important for athletes as research has shown it to improve concentration, decrease inflammation, boost immunity and DHA specifically can help speed recovery of concussion (11).
Choose these SMAASHT fatty fish often:
A: arctic char
Other plant sources of ALA Omega 3 include, flaxseed, nuts, avocado, and chia seed.
It is recommended to eat at least 2-3 servings of fatty fish per week to meet requirements, and for athletes specifically recovering from injury: 2-3grams/day of EPA and DHA (12). If an athlete doesn’t eat fish, or enough per week, an omega 3 supplement may be considered (11). Speak to your Performance Dietitian or medical professional first.
8. Bug Out! (Get your Probiotics)
Probiotics are live healthy bugs that can help with digestive and immune health. Probiotics naturally occur in fermented foods such as yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi and kombucha and are especially important for athletes who experience upset/nervous stomachs from exercise, travel or competition. Although there are no specific recommendations yet for athletes, they should try to include naturally high probiotic foods or consult your Sports Dietitian for a probiotic supplement.
Gelatin often found in Jell-O desserts, has been shown to promote healing from joint injuries. Consuming approximately 15 g of gelatin (Knox gelatin powder) WITH 50 mg of Vitamin C 30-60 minutes before training can help build collagen making ligaments, bones and tendons stronger, preventing injury, and speeding up the recovery process (13, 14). Click here for a tasty and easy gelatin chew recipe you can make at home!
10. FOOD FIRST!
Nothing replaces the nutrients in FOOD! While taking supplements may help meet requirements when athletes are challenged to get them through food. But caution is advised when taking mega doses of any one or more supplement/nutrient. This MAY interfere with the actions of other nutrients! MORE IS NOT BETTER! Supplements also do not have other important nutrients found in the whole food, such as phytochemicals and fiber.
The Bottom Line
It is recommended that athletes meet their nutrition requirements through a well-balanced diet, choosing foods first when possible. If an athlete’s inatke is poor due to illness, injury, allergies/intolerances, or travel, then supplementation can be an option. It is however, not an excuse for poor planning. If supplementation is deemed necessary, advised by a medical professional, athletes must minimize any potential risk for in-advertent doping. Look for the NSF Certified for Sport logo on products when available. BUYER BEWARE: nothing is 100% RISK FREE, it is the athlete’s choice in the end! Consult your local registered dietitian (RD) with a specialty in Sports to help determine the best course of action.
Coaches and Parents should encourage athletes to consume a nutritionally and energy balanced diet as the first line of defence for keeping healthy performing at their best. Getting a balance of all the major food groups with , enough calories, carbohydrates, proteins and fats combined with proper rest and recovery is the best recipe for top performance!
1. Mountjoy M, et al. (2015). The IOC relative energy deficiency in sport clinical assessment tool (RED-S CAT). Br J Sports Med. 0:1–33 . doi:10.1136/bjsports-2014-094559
2. Dietitians of Canada. (2016). Nutrition and Athletic Performance. Position Paper. Retrieved from https://www.dietitians.ca/Downloads/Public/noap-position-paper.aspx.
3. Maughan, R.J., et al. (2018). IOC consensus statement: Dietary supplements and the high-performance athlete. Br J Sports Med, 0:1-17, doi:10, 1136/bjsports-2018-099027Jbkj
4. What you need to know about vitamin C. (2017, April). Retrieved from http://www.unlockfood.ca/en/Articles/Vitamins-and-Minerals/What-you-need-to-know-about-vitamin-C.aspx
5. Dietitians of Canada. (2012). Food Sources of Vitamin D. Retrieved from; http://www.dietitians.ca/Downloads/Factsheets/Food-Sources-of-Vitamin-D.aspx
6. Office of Dietary Supplements – Vitamin C. (2018, March 2). Retrieved from http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminC-HealthProfessional/
7. Dietitians of Canada. (2016). Food Sources of Vitamin E. Retrieved from; https://www.dietitians.ca/getattachment/341815c0-a66a-4cdb-a6e7-33606b74d5fe/Factsheet-Food-Sources-of-Vitamin-E.pdf.aspx
8. Dietitians of Canada. (2014). Food Sources of Vitamin A. Retrieved from; https://www.dietitians.ca/Downloads/Factsheets/Food-Sources-of-Vitamin-A.aspx
9. Mashhadi, N. S., Ghiasvand, R., Askari, G., Hariri, M., Darvishi, L., & Mofid, M. R. (2013, April). Anti-Oxidative and Anti-Inflammatory Effects of Ginger in Health and Physical Activity: Review of Current Evidence. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3665023/~
10. Maroon, J. C., Bost, J. W., Borden, M. K., Lorenz, K. M., & Ross, N. A. (2006). Natural antiinflammatory agents for pain relief in athletes. Neurosurgical Focus,21(4), 1-13. doi:10.3171/foc.2006.21.4.12
11. Andrade, P. M., Ribeiro, B. G., Bozza, M. T., Costa, L. F., & Tavares, M. G. (n.d.). Effects of the fish-oil supplementation on the immune and inflammatory responses in elite swimmers. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17923401
12. Dietitians of Canada. (2016). Food Sources of Omega 3. Retrieved from; https://www.dietitians.ca/getattachment/de95e92c-3fb3-40db-b457-173de89bdc3a/FACTSHEET-Food-Sources-of-Omega-3-Fats.pdf.aspx.
13. Menayang, A. (2016, November 22). Gelatin, vitamin C exercise aids collagen synthesis, study finds. Retrieved from https://www.nutraingredients-usa.com/Article/2016/11/22/Gelatin-vitamin-C-and-exercise-aids-collagen-synthesis-study-finds
14. Coaching Association of Canada. Retrieved from https://www.coach.ca/speedy-recovery-gelatin-p161510