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How Does Nutrition Affect Fitness?

By Linda Ray


Sports nutrition is not just for athletes. A report by the Mayo Clinic indicates that proper nutrition can boost any exercise routine and affect performance and feelings of well-being while exercising. The best kinds of nutrition depend on the results that a person is seeking and the type of exercise being performed. For the most part, eating foods high in carbohydrates and low in fat prior to exercising can improve the way a person feels while working out. Studies reported by the Mayo Clinic indicate that endurance often can be improved by eating larger amounts of carbohydrates in the days preceding an event. On the other hand, those working out to gain muscle are usually encouraged to include more protein in their diets. Sports nutrition also offers direction in the best times to eat and drink various nutrients.


Timing is an important aspect of nutritional fitness regimes. Coordinating the intake of food and drinks will affect how nutrition works to improve overall fitness results. The Mayo Clinic reports that as the digestive system and muscles compete for energy, too much food intake prior to exercising can cause diarrhea and cramping. Conversely, too little nutrition before exercising can cause low blood sugar levels and impede a workout by causing weakness, reduced mental capacity and slow reaction times. Blood sugar is especially low first thing in the morning after waking, which is why a small breakfast high in complex carbohydrates at least an hour or two before exercising is recommended. Large meals should be eaten three to four hours before exercising, while small snacks are typically appropriate immediately prior to and during working out. Meals high in protein and carbohydrates eaten after exercising can help to improve muscle repair.


The Health Education Department at Brown University provides lists of nutrients required to maintain maximum fitness levels. The main nutritional groups needed for both athletes and the moderately active include protein and carbohydrates, the lipids found in fat, vitamins, minerals and water. Serving sizes in the basic food groups are the same for maximum fitness in those who exercise regularly and athletes, with the exception of carbohydrates (carbs). Athletes require more energy to sustain their activities and typically should eat three to four additional servings of carbs per day. The best sources of fat lipids are from olive and canola oils, nuts and seeds. Protein is important for muscle building and should be monitored according to activity levels. For example, an inactive adult should eat no more than .4 grams of protein per pound of body weight per day, while moderate exercisers and competitive athletes should consume .5 to .75 grams of protein per pound of body weight per day. Excess protein will be stored in the body as fat.

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