Healthy nutrition information for athletes

Aug 1, 2008 at 11:56 a.m. ET

With the 2008 Beijing Olympics just around the corner, you may be wondering just how you can work your way up to being an Olympic athlete - or at least be as healthy and fit. Besides all the dedication and intense training, one of the major contributors to an Olympic athlete's fitness prowess is a nutritious diet. Here are some simple tips for healthy eating to help you get fit and achieve your peak performance.

Athlete Eating Energy Bar

What to eat while training

Complex carbohydrates, unsaturated fats, lean proteins and fluids are the key components of a healthy diet, particularly for athletic training and exercise.

Intensity matters

Whether you train light or heavy, you still need a good balance of nutrients to keep your energy up. However, the type of training you do will determine the optimal ratio and amount of foods you should eat.

In general, moderate to high intensity training over short bursts of time require more carbohydrates, while low intensity training over long periods of time require more fat.

Regardless of your mode of exercise, proteins are used to repair and maintain body tissue and muscles and are best eaten after a workout.

Time meals accordingly

Eating is important to fuel your workouts but keep in mind that exercising on a full stomach is less than ideal.

Instead, eat a full meal one to four hours before you are ready to exercise or compete. To avoid nausea or upset stomach, your meal should be digested before beginning your workout, particularly for high-intensity training.

Pre-workout: A pre-workout meal should consist of easily digestible carbohydrates such as pasta, fruit, breads and energy bars or drinks. A general rule for competing and exercising is to eat a light solid meal four hours before, a high carbohydrate snack two to three hours before, and a sports drink one hour before. Avoid foods high in fat, sugar and caffeine.

During exercise: While exercising, be sure to stay hydrated with lots of water. If your workout or event is long in duration, such as a marathon, consider hydrating with water and sports drinks, to replenish lost electrolytes. For long events, you may also consider easy to digest snacks, like a banana or an energy gel, such as GU.

Recovery: Your post-exercise meal is just as important as your pre-workout meal. Your body needs to repair its muscles and tissues, so it is imperative you eat soon after your exercise. Ideally, eat a snack such as fruit or fruit juice within 15 minutes after your workout to give your blood sugar a boost, then have meal with between 100 and 200 grams of carbohydrates and 25 to 50 grams of protein within two hours to optimally replenish your muscles and blood sugar levels (think whole grain bagel with peanut butter or whole milk yogurt and fruit and nuts). Protein is especially important because it helps repair your muscle fibers and soft tissues. Post-workout hydration is essential to recovery, too. Drink 20 to 24 ounces of water for every hour of exercise.

Rest: Most importantly, after your meal and rehydration, rest your body. Hopefully, if you are competing, you have long enough breaks in between events to adequately recover. Active recovery is another option to help repair your body. Doing a long slow cool down can help your body recover quicker than just sitting around.

Regardless, the general rule for training hard and competing harder is to stay well-hydrated and nourished before, during and after your workout or event.

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