Food is the fuel that keeps all of us moving, and excellent nutrition can actually enhance your sports performance. Even better, eating healthy will improve your health and help maintain it as the years go by.

The Basics: Essential Nutrition for Performance

To perform at your best during physical activity, you must have enough of these:

  • Carbohydrates
  • Calories
  • Liquids
  • Vitamins and minerals such as iron
  • Protein

Although different sports may require different fuel-up times and amounts, keep in mind that most people overeat in anticipation of physical activity. Over months and years, overeating leads to excess weight and chronic health problems such as diabetes.

Consult with government websites to get a realistic estimate of exactly how many calories you might burn during a particular physical activity. Don’t trust retail outlets that sell nutritional supplements because they might “boost” the calories-burned number in order to boost their sales.


There is a lot of talk these days about carbohydrates: the good, the bad, and the ugly. The fact is that carbohydrates are none of these things. Simply put, carbohydrates are the essential substance your body burns to produce energy. Mostly, your body stores carbohydrates, or fuel, in your muscles and in your liver.

All food – whether protein, carbs, or fat – must be transformed into carbohydrates by your body before it can be used as fuel. Some types of foods are more easily burned than others. Before you start a workout, you need to provide ready fuel for your body in the form of carbohydrates. For example, fruit juice, or some yogurt will provide fuel if you will be exercising for more than one hour.

Carbohydrates are found in vegetables, starches, and even soft drinks. The difference is that the first two types of carbs also supply vital vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Soft drinks only provide sugar.

For intense exercise that lasts more than one hour, you will need to fuel up again. In these cases, sports drinks are a good source of carbohydrates. They also provide electrolytes such as sodium and potassium. You lose essential electrolytes when you sweat, so drinking water alone might not be enough to keep you healthy during exertion.

Workouts deplete the carbohydrates stored in your muscles. So, you’ll want to eat carbs to refill those stores. Resist the temptation to grab junk food – instead, grab a granola bar, peanut butter, or walnuts to quickly restore your energy bank. You don’t need a lot; in fact, it’s better to wait for a while after you exercise before eating a substantial amount of food.


The word on protein these days is that too much protein is not good. Americans regularly consume much more protein than they need. Even athletes do not burn protein as a primary fuel. Too much protein puts a strain on your body and can cause your kidneys to become overworked. Anything that throws a diet out of balance is not healthy.

Staying Hydrated

Did you know that you can lose several quarts or liters of sweat in one hour during intensive exercise?

It is essential to replace lost fluids. After one hour of exercise, make sure to drink a sports type of drink to ensure that you replace essential electrolytes. These are the substances that keep your heart and the rest of you functioning as you should. You should drink even if you do not feel thirsty.

At Florida Sports Medicine & Orthopaedics in Panama City, Florida, we want to help our patients improve their movement and function so they can return to their active lifestyles as quickly as possible. Board-certified orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Talkington has been diagnosing and treating patients of all ages since 1985.

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