Functional Training Zones

Nutrition: How It’s Helping
(or Hurting) Your Athletes

by Erika Wincheski, Performance Nutrition Manager at EXOS

An athlete can receive the best training with the best coaches and still not achieve their optimum performance if they're not maximizing one of the key pillars – nutrition. Nutrition sets the foundation for improved training adaptations, performance, and recovery. Without adequate fuel, an athlete's body won't have the energy needed to perform. Poor fueling strategies can impair focus, damage mindset, reduce energy, and possibly lead to injury.

If an athlete isn't utilizing the right nutrition and recovery strategies, then they're not setting themselves up for success in their training session or off-season program. When an athlete trains, their muscles break down. It's during their post-workout recovery window that the body rebuilds, refuels, and rehydrates, using protein, carbs, fluids, and other key nutrients. If those nutrients aren't available, fuel stores aren't replenished, fatigue sets in, and training adaptations (e.g. lean body mass gains, fat mass losses, and changes in performance markers) aren't achieved.

Healthy nutrition habits are built in the off-season. During this time, assess where your athlete is starting from and what their goals are. Do they need to lose weight? Build muscle? Increase speed? Now, work with a dietitian to put together a fueling strategy that complements their goal, current state, nutrition habits, and training program. This is the time to make upgrades and build a strong foundation to support their season. By the time the season kicks off, your athlete should be in a steady nutrition and fueling routine. The goal now is to maintain the habits and strategies implemented in the off-season. This is the time to make small adjustments – avoid big adjustments, which can derail their routine – and reap the benefits of their hard work.

A simple upgrade your athletes can make today, even without a complete fueling plan in place, is hydration. They can start by drinking at least half their body weight in ounces of water each day, and a bit more during training. An easy way to track hydration status is to weigh athletes before and after activity. They shouldn't lose more than two percent of their body weight. For example, a 200-pound athlete should lose less than four pounds during a training session or game. If they're dehydrated, adjust their hydration strategy during workouts to improve concentration, muscle elasticity, and performance, and reduce injury risk. For salty sweaters, hot environments, or high-intensity sessions, a sports drink may be necessary to maintain hydration, electrolytes, and fuel status.

Taking an inventory of your athlete's season and mapping out their off-season strategy will ensure that your athletes achieve their goals and performance markers. Couple this with a personalized nutrition fueling plan, and your athletes will maximize their in-season potential throughout their career.

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