Nutrition Supplement: Vitamins and Diet for Athletic Performance

Vitamins minerals and more: Safely using vitamin supplements and a well-balanced diet can enhance athletic performance.

| July/August 1997

Whether you’re a triathlete in training or a lunch-hour walker, vitamins and other dietary supplements may improve your performance—if they’re incorporated into a balanced diet and used with common sense.

Most health professionals agree that the foundation for optimal athletic performance of any degree is a well-balanced and varied diet, along with adequate sleep and proper training techniques.

Once this regimen is in place, dietary supplements may help some people enhance their performance. Although the wrong ones can interfere with nutrient absorption, the proper dietary supplements can help the body recover quickly from exercise.

The impact of exercise

During the first four hours of exercise, the body runs primarily on carbohydrates and fats. Fatty acids provide fuel during exercise of low to moderate intensity, and carbohydrates help maintain blood sugar levels while the body is producing energy. When we run out of carbohydrates we become fatigued, so it’s important to replenish carbohydrates during and after exercise.

Edmund Burke, Ph.D., director of the exercise science program at the University of Colorado’s Colorado Springs campus, says advance planning can help you avoid running out of fuel. Say, for example, that you plan to take a two-hour hike. Eat a balanced meal two to three hours before the hike, he suggests. About thirty minutes before you start off, eat half a sports bar and drink 8 to 12 ounces of water. During exercise lasting one hour or less, water is the best drink to keep yourself balanced, Burke says. If you use special sports beverages instead, their added carbohydrates and electrolytes will just be lost through perspiration. For longer exercise periods though, sports beverages are recommended, and you should also take along some fuel such as raisins, oranges, fig bars or the new carbohydrate gels to maintain carbohydrate levels during your workout. Once you’ve finished exercising, he says, replenish your carbohydrate reserves so that your muscles can recover more quickly.

Carbohydrate intake is important for participants in activities of all intensities, but especially for endurance sports such as bicycling, cross-country skiing, and running. Ann Grandjean, Ph.D., director of the International Center for Sports Nutrition in Omaha, Nebraska, recommends that athletes who train aerobically for 60 to 90 minutes a day take in a daily dose of 4 to 5 g of carbohydrates per pound of body weight to maintain levels of glycogen, the body’s major carbohydrate reserve.

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