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Recommended Fiber Intake for Athletes

By Joseph McAllister

Most amateur and professional athletes know that they need plenty of protein, vitamins and minerals in their diets to stay in peak condition. Although fiber is a dietary component that tends to receive less attention, it is extremely important for good health, as well.

Function

You need dietary fiber to properly process and digest the food that you eat. Without sufficient fiber, you may become susceptible to intestinal disorders like diverticulitis or constipation. Dietary fiber can be categorized as either soluble or insoluble. Soluble fiber dissolves in water, while insoluble fiber passes through your digestive tract intact. Healthy dietary fiber levels can also help reduce your LDL cholesterol levels and maintain a healthy blood-sugar level, according to the Mayo Clinic website.

Recommended Daily Intake

In most cases, an athlete needs about the same daily fiber intake as any other healthy person. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, most people get only 10 to 15 g of dietary fiber per day;. But for best health, most people should get 20 to 35 g per day. The exception for athletes is immediately before competition, when nerves can often lead to an upset stomach -- a condition that can be aggravated by a high-fiber meal. For that reason, Julie DuBois, a dietitian for Nutriworks Comprehensive Nutrition Consulting, recommends eating low-fiber foods shortly before a competition or event. For example, fruit juice, white rice and potatoes with no skin can all provide you with energy without overloading your body with fiber while it is under stress.

Sources

Virtually all whole-grain products are good sources of dietary fiber. One cup of oatmeal, for example, has 4 g of dietary fiber, while a slice of wheat bread has nearly 1 g. Most fruits and vegetables also have significant amounts of dietary fiber, according to the Harvard School of Public Health

Other Considerations

Many athletes -- particularly those who compete in endurance sports like marathon running and distance swimming -- must eat very large amounts of calories to have sufficient energy for training. In many cases, their daily caloric requirements are far higher than those for most other people. Because most athletes are careful to follow nutritious, healthy diets that contain plenty of fruits and vegetables, they can easily find their daily fiber intake far higher than is necessary -- increasing their risk of digestive-system distress. For that reason, some athletes actually need to reduce their overall fiber intake by selecting more low-fiber foods.

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