One of the hottest terms of the past decade: sports nutrition. Ask any exercise scientist, personal trainer, or sports trainer, and they will tell you that sports nutrition has become a growing topic of interest and a huge market. Physios may be a little behind on this subject, so we thought we would offer a nice review of sports nutrition specific to the practice of sports physiotherapy.
For physiotherapists, the top 3 areas of sports nutrition we should focus on include:
- Performance improvement
Let’s take a look at each of these and see what PTs need to consider from a dietary perspective.
Helping athletes rehabilitate after injury is an important role of an athletic physiotherapist – but what about recovery after resistance training, practice or competition? Recovering from training and competition can allow athletes to gain strength, perform better, and possibly even prevent injury. Physiotherapists can help their athletes gain a recovery advantage through simple dietary changes.
Many authors and athletes cite 3R Post workout; a time when rehydration, fueling (carbohydrates) and repair (3R) are top priorities.
- Rehydration protocols vary depending on the duration of the event, the intensity of the exercise and the specific athlete. Indoor / outdoor weighing can help a physiotherapist guide an athlete through best rehydration.
- Carbohydrate refueling is a handy fruit. No seriously, fruit is probably the best carbohydrate fueling food for athletes. It is high in carbohydrates, good in fiber, and packed with antioxidants, which can help with repair as well. Exercise, especially resistance training, induces micro-tears and minimal inflammation, which is normal and good. However, if this damage and inflammation is not alleviated, it can mean more pain, reduced performance, or even injury. Fruits are probably the best functional food to help repair tissue, with cherries, citrus fruits, watermelon, and berries standing out as the best.
We extensively cover the research and dosage of these fruits to optimize recovery from delayed onset muscle pain (DOM) and training in our third course, Specialized nutrition for PTs (SNPs). Let’s move on to the next topic: preventing athletes from getting sick!
When athletes train and compete at high volumes and intensity, their immune systems can be compromised. With a decrease in the function of the immune system, athletes are more likely to catch upper respiratory infections and other problems. Fortunately, nutrition can help alleviate this drop in immune function and keep athletes working out, a topic known as immunonutrition.
Several dietary factors can help improve an athlete’s immunonutrition, and they are:
- Maintain hydration. Saliva and mucous membranes contain defensins, which help fight infection. When a person is dehydrated, these defensins cannot work as well.
- Use fruit! Study after study has shown how consuming berries, cherries and other fruits rich in vitamin C can help reduce infections such as colds, coughs, and sinus problems.
- Use protein– rich foods spread throughout the day. Studies show that delivering high protein foods throughout the day, and especially right after training or competition, can help athletes maintain lean muscle mass. Keeping lean muscle mass on an athlete helps alleviate a catabolic state, which can depress the immune system. Foods high in protein don’t mean meat; in fact, consuming plant-based protein sources can be just as effective as animal protein sources!
- Maintain carbohydrates status. Long competitions and training can deplete glycogen stores and stress the immune system. Replacing carbohydrate stores should be done during training and competition and most certainly immediately after exercise.
- Supplements. From probiotics to colostrum, a wide range of supplements offer conflicting data on boosting an athlete’s immune system. We deepen this debate in our online continuing education courses for rehabilitation professionals and PTs.
Let’s move on to our final section, which is a major topic in any locker room or on the sidelines!
Most athletes look for an edge in training and competition. They often seek advice from the team strength coach, personal trainer, head coach or other athletes. Some of these team members can convey how certain nutrients, supplements, or other foods can help improve performance. This information can be evidence-based, but it can often be just a fad or obtained from poorly documented sources like social media or the internet. A sports physiotherapist can help purify the air and provide excellent patient education when they are well informed about improving dietary performance.
We cover a comprehensive supplement and dietary review of evidence of performance improvement in our 3rd course; to cover all of the content here, one would have to consider space and time. Let’s describe some highlights of this data:
- Similar to immunonutrition data, protein consumption is important to improve performance. The first article on improving performance and protein would probably be Schoenfeld et al’s meta-analysis on protein timing after training. This article refuted the need to “time” protein to optimize muscle mass or strength. It appears that consuming 5-6 meals / snacks with at least 20 grams of protein has shown promising results for many athletes looking to gain lean muscle mass and strength.
- Training with varying amounts the availability of carbohydrates can help athletes get through tough competitive times. The exact methods of “low training” versus “high training” depend on the athlete and the sport.
- Of them “supplements“That stand out in the literature are caffeine and creatine monohydrate. Caffeine can improve reaction times, increase energy performance and increase weight. Caffeine can be ingested as a pill, gum or drink, like tea or coffee, which can positive health benefits. Creatine monohydrate also shows very promising data: it can increase athlete power, increase sprint time and weight lifted. The addition of this supplement to an athlete’s diet is quite inexpensive and has minimal side effects
- Functional foods are another hot topic for athletes. The nitrates in beets, arugula, and fennel have been shown to increase nitric oxide compounds in the body. Such compounds can promote vasodilation and improve perfusion of muscle tissue; the increased blood flow is likely the reason why athletes who use these functional foods have better endurance, lower sprint speeds, and lower fatigue rates.
Understanding functional foods, supplements, and solid sports nutrition can help athletic physiotherapists better help their athletes recover and perform. Whether it’s boosting their immune system after a tough competition or recovering from a workout, athletic physiotherapists have a role to play in educating their athletes and knowing when to refer a referral. athlete to a sports dietitian or team doctor.
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