Does Diet Affect Sports Performance?

Citius, Altius, Fortius, faster, higher, harder! – The well-known motto of the Olympic Games motivates athletes to seek support on as many levels as possible. New training techniques, training plans, innovative equipment, supplements, and even stronger “boosters” – the arms race rushes so fast that sometimes we forget about the fundamentals.

By spending considerable amounts of money on dietary supplements and the latest sports equipment, we often underestimate the potential of the most obvious activity – everyday food.

In recent years, sports dietetics has been developing incredibly fast, and the periodization of diet, just like training in professional sport, has become a standard. Research shows unequivocally that through a properly planned nutritional strategy we can improve our sporting achievements.

The most obvious example is the role of carbohydrates in sports training. Research confirms that both their availability during exercise and various nutritional strategies including dietary modification of this component (e.g. “carbo loading” or “train low compete high”) can effectively support sports achievements.

The outcome of a match or finishing line may depend on which athlete has better regenerated his glycogen reserves before the competition or has planned to replenish energy and electrolytes during the competition.

Sports performance may also be affected by other ingredients in the food. An example of substances with the so-called ergogenic effect (i.e. increasing the body’s capabilities) are nitrates, which can be found, among others, in beets.

As the cross-examination with a double-blind control test (which was an extract from blackcurrant) showed, drinking 2 glasses (500ml) of beet juice caused the cyclists to use almost 20% less oxygen during cycling. Beet juice, by reducing the need for oxygen, significantly increases the efficiency of the body and contributes to the increase of the time before entering the body feeling completely exhausted.

Interestingly, according to press reports, freshly squeezed beetroot juice was a scarce commodity within almost 12 miles of the city during the London Olympics.

Of course, as quickly as the popularity of beetroot was growing, preparations with “beet” ingredient appeared on the market. Manufacturers of supplements can sell us substances even easily available in conventional products.

Isn’t it the case that caffeine supplements, which have been selling well since 2004 when the World Anti-Doping Agency withdrew the substance from the banned list and authorised its use, have returned to favor? Caffeine can not only reduce the feeling of fatigue, but also improve attention.

And the Australian Sports Institute confirms its effectiveness by classifying it as a supplement with reliable and scientifically proven evidence of action. Instead of a pre-training session with caffeine, I recommend coffee, which will also provide us with antioxidants and… the possibility to enjoy its delicious taste.

The superiority of natural products over supplements is also confirmed in the case of antioxidants. Since it has been proven that antioxidants effectively reduce inflammation, damage and muscle pain caused by intensive physical effort, it has become very popular to administer them in the form of so-called “super doses” to athletes in order to increase the effectiveness of post-workout regeneration.

As it turned out later, it is a two-sided weapon, because the antioxidants administered in the form of a supplement limit at the same time the metabolic adaptation, slowing down the training progress.

However, this negative effect is not observed in natural products rich in antioxidants, such as berries. It has been proven, for example, that the juice from a sour cherry effectively reduces muscle pain after exercise (the so-called “acidification”), without inhibiting metabolic adaptation.

To reduce muscle pain 24 hours after training, but also to improve anaerobic performance may be citrulline rich watermelon. Interestingly, the authors of the scientific research proved that the bioavailability of citrulline is much higher after its consumption from a natural product than in the form of an artificial supplement.

A proper diet can also reduce the risk of injury and affect the immune system, which translates into a reduction in the number of days when we train less efficiently or are completely unable to make an effort. Here again, an example can be cherries, whose consumption of about 60 pieces per day can reduce the risk of symptoms very common among marathoners of upper respiratory tract infections.

Of course, it is easier to reach for capsules or put on “self running” shoes, but we will never reach our “maximum” without using our body’s full potential.

By taking proper care of our body and teaching it the right habits, we can not only achieve more, increasing the effectiveness of training and regeneration, but also extend the career of a competitor.It is worth taking care of the tool of your work – athlete, so take care of your body.