How much thought do you give to your nutrition throughout the day? A lot? A little? Somewhere in-between? I believe most athletes fall into the somewhere in-between category, having a general idea of what is good and bad fuel for their body, but not having or executing a plan when it comes to their nutritional needs. Anytime your body is placed under stress (whether it be from working out, playing in a game, or studying for a big test the next day) your body releases hormones to cope with this stress. Without proper nutrition, these hormones will leave the body in a catabolic state, or a state of breakdown. Because athletes place their body under constant stress, fueling the body properly throughout the day becomes extremely important, limiting the catabolic effects and placing the body in an anabolic, or building, state. Your body also needs the proper fuel to have a productive workout, practice, or game, and feeding it the right nutrients will allow for a greater intensity to be reached on the playing field and in the weight room.
Exercising is a traumatic event for your body. Aerobic or resistance training alike cause trauma to the muscles, bones, and connective tissue of your body. Essentially, you are breaking down your body in hope that your body will “fight back” and rebuild stronger so the same stress will not cause as much damage. If given enough time and the proper nutrients, this is exactly what your body will do. It will take in the damage that has been done and spend a lot of energy rebuilding the muscles, bones, and connective tissues to become stronger and more resilient. The key is if given enough time and the proper nutrients. Your body simply cannot rebuild if it does not have the time or fuel to do so. The time it takes your body to recover is greatly influenced by nutrition; the faster the body gets the nutrients it needs, the faster the body can start and complete its remodeling process. Likewise, the fuel you have in your body during your exercise bout will greatly impact the intensity you are able to maintain during your workout. Without good nutrients, your body simply will not have the resources it needs to give maximum effort, leading to decreased performance. Decreased performance during workouts leads to decreased athletic gains, stunting your growth as an athlete.
Changing your eating habits should be a step-by-step process, as changing everything at once is unsustainable and will not be successful in the long run. Start by changing one or two things, such as eliminating soda or other sweet sugary drinks, eating whole grain bread instead of white bread, or adding a fruit or vegetable to every meal. These steps will add up over time and make a huge difference in your energy levels and recovery between workout bouts. Another simple change could be adding a granola bar or a handful of trail mix to your lunch to eat before a practice or workout, ensuring your body will have the fuel it needs to reach peak intensity levels. Lastly, ingesting a high quality protein and carbohydrate source shortly after a workout will give your body the right resources to start it’s rebuilding process in a timely manner and help reduce your recovery time between workouts. Simple changes such as these will soon become a habit and you’ll be well on your way to becoming the best athlete you have ever been.