Sports Chatter: Nutrition Plays a Critical Role in Athletic Performance and Healing

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Written by Ian Cramer, MS, ATC

Today’s young athletes are more active, more involved, and more ‘on the go’ than ever. What powers athletes through classes, practices, and games? The food they eat. Proper nutrition for a young athlete plays not only an important role in their performance at school, but also on the field with injury recovery.

The American Dietetics Association (ADA), Dieticians of Canada, and the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) have come out with a joint position statement on the correlation between nutrition and athletic performance: “Physical activity, athletic performance, and recovery from exercise are enhanced by optimal nutrition.” These organizations recommend an appropriate selection of foods and fluids, timing of intake, and supplement choices for ideal health and exercise performance. With the joint position statement on nutrition, it can be concluded that food absolutely makes a difference. However, a multitude of organizations leave it up to medical professionals to speak to individual athletes or teams about their personal nutrition requirements. An article from 2012 revealed that adequate knowledge of nutrition was discovered in only 35% of coaches and 9% of athletes–but 71% of Athletic Trainers and 83% of Strength and Conditioning Specialists possessed this knowledge.

The approach to nutrition can be tricky for the masses. First and foremost, an emphasis on food, rather than dietary supplements, pills, and artificial bars or powders is important. Dietary supplements should only be used if needed and under the supervision of a health care professional. The vast majority of an athlete’s diet should be whole foods, such as whole fruits, vegetables, grains and legumes, rather than processed, high-sugar or high-fat foods. Not only do whole foods have greater nutritional content, but in most cases, the vitamins and minerals in these food products are better absorbed by the body. The body utilizes the nutrients found in whole foods for immediate or long-term energy, muscle repair, and recovery from daily exercise or injuries. The building blocks for increased performance and stronger muscles and bones come from food intake. So wouldn’t you want to utilize the best building blocks to get the greatest performance out of your body?