A person’s recommended nutritional intake varies widely for every individual – and for different sports. People need the correct amount of nutrients to account for daily energy expenditure and for the maintenance of the biochemical and physiological processes that maintain health and supply nourishment to the body. Due to the higher demands of physiological responses in sports and exercise routine, athletes require their own nutritional discipline: Sports Nutrition.
What is Sports Nutrition?
Sports Nutrition is a niche of nutritional sciences. It’s primarily concerned with maximizing athletic performance whilst minimizing the risk of injuries related to the physiological responses. It prepares the athlete’s body to keep up with the varying physical stress from regular training intervals and assists the recovery process by refueling the body to boost the immune system and maintain consistency over a period of time. For example, in endurance athletes such as marathon runners, carbohydrate intake before exercise, or carb loading, plays a crucial role in their performance and glucose availability.
In sports nutrition, one of the concepts that has vital significance in the performance of an athlete is the phenomenon of Homeostasis. From the Greek words “Homeo-” meaning “similar” and “Stasis” meaning “stable”, homeostasis is the self-regulating physiological phenomenon that maintains a stable condition at the cellular level by adjusting various critical variables for normal functioning of the body. Sports and exercises tend to disrupt homeostasis by stimulating the sympathetic nervous system and increasing the demand in various metabolic responses. As a consequence of this exercise-induced altered state, nutritional recommendations come into play not only to regulate hormonal functions required to tune the thermoregulatory processes of the body during an exercise but also to provide better metabolic and neural signals to activate the gut-brain feedback-based neurons.
Physiological responses of Sports Nutrition
For instance, during exercise, the value of pH decreases rapidly in the working muscles due to the increased heart rate which hinders the release of CO2 through the lungs. As a consequence, the CO2 builds up in the bloodstream, which turns the blood acidic. In order to overcome the high acid content in the bloodstream and prevent acute fatigue and other fatal conditions such as acidosis in later stages, nutrients play a vital role in the buffering mechanism. By supplying an adequate amount of iron ions, protein complexes, and hydration to the hemoglobin, it creates a concentration gradient and subsequently reduces the relative amount of carbon dioxide from the muscles and the bloodstream. Thus homeostasis is restored by tuning the acid-base equilibrium and monitoring the biochemical balance. Note that this whole cycle repeats again and again during any exercise or sports due to the changes in various physiological responses such as heart rate, stroke volume, vital capacity etc.
Nutrition in sports does not only revolve around the modulation for macronutrients, supplements, and hydration in athletes. It also bestows periodized nutrition strategies to enhance the overall metabolism through a scientific evidence-based approach. Lastly, it develops recommendations that enable athletes to perform at their highest level and compensate for their workload.
Exercise and Sports Scientist
Certified Sports Nutrition Specialist