When it comes to nutrition for athletes and bodybuilders, most people just think of bulking up on protein powders, steroids, or supplements more effective (but non-100% natural) products such as creatine monohydrate. However nutrition for athletes should go beyond short-term performance. Before we talk more in depth about nutrition for athletes and bodybuilders, let’s first talk about what you want – is it muscle growth? More definition? Better tone? Weight loss? Or something else? You have to know what your goal is to figure out the right nutrition and workout plan for you.
Nutrition For Muscle Building
Most athletes I talk to want to build muscle, so let’s talk about that. How is muscle built? Maybe it sounds like a stupid question, but it’s really the basis for creating bigger muscles. What happens when you lift weights, for instance, is that your muscles create microscopic tears or damage to the muscle fibers. This small amount of damage is normal and healthy, and is the process by which your muscles grow. Without tearing down your muscle fibers in the first place by working out, the muscles won’t grow and get bigger.
When you think about it this way, it’s quite obvious that the entire process of growing muscles is really all about tearing down the muscles (by exercising) and then rebuilding them (with nutrition and proper rest). I’ve met a lot of really buff guys in the gym who can tell you everything about what workouts to do and how to do them – but very few who really understand the importance of nutrition in muscle building and muscle recovery.
In fact, overtraining has not become such a common term in the athletic and bodybuilding arenas that it’s almost like a badge of honor. “Oh yeah, I tore a muscle I worked out so hard.” That’s not really something to be proud of! Torn muscles and other workout injuries can force you into a long period of recovery and, in some cases, create life-long injuries, pain, swelling, and inflammation. The key is to feed your body right so that you don’t experience overtraining in the first place.
Oxidative Stress For Athletes
Everyone knows that exercising is good for your health – and it is! It can dramatically reduce your risk for cancer, heart disease, stroke, depression and many other illnesses. But what most athletes don’t understand is that there IS a downside to working out – it’s called oxidative stress.
Oxidative stress is a normal byproduct of the human metabolism (or any animal). When you breathe air for oxygen, that oxygen goes to your cells where it is combined with the fuel from the food you eat and “burned” to create ATP (energy). Not only does your body create ATP from this process though, it also creates a dangerous byproduct called a free radical.
Free radicals are unstable molecules that are missing an electron. Because of this, they are highly reactive and will damage any other molecule they come into contact with – and continue to bombard other molecules, kind of like a snowball growing as it rolls down a hill. Trillions and trillions of these free radicals are created in your body every single day – and they can build up over time to cause serious damage like aging, hypertension, cancer, and many other diseases. And the more you exercise or work out, the more free radicals your body produces because your burning more fuel at the cellular level!
The only way to stop these free radicals is with antioxidants. Your body creates its own antioxidants, but many of them we cannot create. We must consume them by eating plant foods – like fresh fruits, vegetables, and berries. Just one apple, for instance, has over 10,000 phytonutrients (antioxidants) in it that help your body fight free radicals.
That’s why a crucial part of your nutrition as an athlete or bodybuilder MUST BE to eat plenty of fresh, preferably raw, fruits, vegetables and berries to get enough antioxidants. New research is also showing the the antioxidants from fruits and vegetables not only reduce oxidative stress, but they can reduce muscle damage specifically in athletes and help reduce the risk of overtraining.
This article written by Tom Corson-Knowles, founder of Authentic Health Coaching. Tom blogs regularly about nutrition, healthy weight loss meal plans, and how to achieve your health goals. Tom is also the co-author of Dr. Candace Corson’s Top 5 Nutrition Tips.