Carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins and minerals are the building blocks of a healthy diet, so eating the right ratios helps your body operate at its best. Check out how they work and the important role that they play in sports performance and recovery.

There are two types of carbohydrates:

 

  1. Simple carbohydrates – sugars, fruits, cakes, muffins, etc.

These are good as a quick release or burst of energy and ideal snack for pre, during or post training/game.

 

  1. Complex carbohydrates – wholegrains, pasta, rice, brown bread, potatoes, etc.

These are good as a slow-release, long-lasting, sustainable energy supply for the body. They are perfect at the start and middle of the day, or within pre- and post-training/game meals.

 

When do we need carbohydrates?

 

For training and games, it’s advisable to have a large amount of long-burning carbohydrates already in your system to provide a slow release of energy. At half time and at the finish, top up with a small amount of quick-burning carbohydrates.

 

How do carbohydrates work in the body?

 

Your muscles: Carbohydrates are an important energy source because they stop muscle protein breakdown. If your body’s carbohydrate stores become depleted due to prolonged exercise without fueling or insufficient dietary intake, the stored protein in your muscles is used as fuel instead. The main role of this protein is tissue maintenance, repair and growth, so you need to preserve your stores as much as possible.

 

Your brain: Blood glucose (a carbohydrate) is the only fuel used by the brain. Low blood glucose (also called hypoglycemia) can impair your ability to make decisions, coordination and use your motor skills.

 

Carbohydrates can only be stored for a limited time, so it’s important that your stores are replenished daily through a healthy diet. Remember that, because every athlete is different, everyone has different carbohydrate needs.

When do we need protein?

We need protein at every meal. A small amount in the morning, more at lunch and the main protein serving at night (dinner).

The average person requires approximately 0.8g of protein per kilogram of body weight. However, the protein needs of athletes are estimated at 1.2g of protein per kilogram of body weight to aid tissue repair. Whilst the increased protein requirement is largely covered by an increase in calories ingested, it’s the timing of protein consumption that’s most important. Players should aim to consume approximately 15-20g of protein within 20 minutes of training or games and top up every hour thereafter.


How protein works in the body

Protein is necessary to aid muscle tissue repair. Incorporating protein into your post-training and post-game meals delivers fuel that your muscles need to optimally perform.

There are two types of fats:
  1. Plant fats – from plants such as avocados, olive oil, nuts, etc.
  2. Animal fats – from animals, such as oily fish (salmon), meat, dairy (cheese, cream), etc.

 

Why do we need fat?

 

  • Good fats, like those in avocados, nuts and seeds, can increase feelings of fullness.
  • A little bit of body fat can have a protective effect against contact trauma.
  • Many vitamins such as A, D, E and K are fat-soluble and are carried through fat.

 

When not to eat fat?

 

A large fatty meal, like deep-fried fast food, following high-intensity training or games, will slow down the absorption of nutrients required by your body to recover.