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Sports diets: Treatment, symptoms, advice and help


Why is it used?

In recent years there has been considerable interest in the role of diet and sport, now there is research which shows the benefits of certain dietary strategies to people who undertake sports.

Who would require the diet?

Professional sportsmen or women take a good deal of interest in what they eat and often employ someone to provide direction or help them to eat their way to a greater physical level. However, this does not mean that amateurs and recreational sportsmen and women cannot achieve the same goal.

What is the diet and how does it work?

The purpose of the diet is to improve performance, for some people this is improving strength, for others it is improving endurance; often it is a combination of both. If a good diet is eaten then the ability to perform in the chosen sport is improved by training, and by definition some improvement can be seen as a result of the training. However a good diet cannot turn a mediocre sportsman into a top professional.

The ideal diet is based on healthy eating principles with greater emphasis on carbohydrate consumption, sadly eating more protein foods does not result in greater amounts of muscle bulk. Muscle bulk can only be gained by training the appropriate muscles.

Carbohydrates, when broken down in the body, produce glucose. There are limited stores of glucose stored as glycogen, which is found in the muscles and the liver. The muscles have a limited capability of storing glycogen, which is easily depleted by activity. The aim is to keep glycogen stores high by refuelling the muscle stores with carbohydrate.

Starchy carbohydrates (bread, pasta, cereals, rice, and potatoes) should be the mainstay of the diet. Other carbohydrates are useful especially if it is necessary to eat a lot of food in order to prevent weight loss, as the bulk of starchy carbohydrates can be too much to consume for some people.

The diet should be low in fat and normal amounts of protein are recommended. Fruits and vegetables are also important as they provide good sources of vitamins and minerals.

Bananas have become very popular as a sporting food snack, as they are easily digestible and provide a good source of potassium (all fruits and vegetables contain potassium), which is lost when sweating occurs. There is no magic ingredient found in bananas as a sport food, just eat a healthy diet.

Following training or exercise when glycogen stores are depleted refuelling (this is an important time immediately after exercise) with carbohydrates should occur as soon as possible. As fluids are important, sports drinks are especially important. Home-made sports drinks can be made using half orange juice and half water with a tiny pinch of salt.

Will the diet harm me?

The diet should not be harmful, but it is known that some women in their quest for a very low fat diet may eat a diet that is low in iron and risk becoming anaemic (see Iron Deficiency Anaemia).

What else do I need to know?

Runners of all levels are more prone to 'runners trots' which is aggravated by high fibre foods, a low fibre diet (see Low Fibre Diets) will help alleviate this.

Some sports people use creatine supplements as a natural method of increasing muscle size for increasing their ability with some sporting activities such as strength sports and sports where sprinting occurs. Protein foods naturally contain creatine, but large amounts of protein would have to be eaten to achieve the same levels. To obtain the maximum benefits from creatine it has to be taken regularly with water to prevent stomach cramps although there are some supplements that do not need water. Most recreational sports people find its expense prohibitive. It is not a b