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Nutritional Keys for Athletic Peak Performance

Commercials for all sorts of dietary programs, nutritional supplements and exercise regimens advertise the ability to help customers achieve peak performance and reach health goals. However, sports nutrition is a science that focuses on evidence-based practices of how nutrition and diet can improve physical performance for athletes or physically active individuals. Sports nutrition experts often provide counsel on how good nutrition can improve peak performance.

A Master of Science in Nutrition with a Specialization in Sport Nutrition online from Lamar University can equip professionals with the knowledge and tools they need to provide clients with the best nutrition and dietary services.

What Is Peak Performance?

Achieving peak performance is very personal, depending on the individual’s goals. Although there are several definitions, peak performance is doing a task or activity at the optimal level of an individual’s physical and mental capabilities. The key word is “optimal,” as peak performance is not just for athletes but for all individuals. For example, some sports nutrition specialists work with those with physical or mental disabilities or older adults who want to maintain mobility.

Sports nutrition best practices may help improve peak performance for athletes of all ages to:

  • Prevent injury
  • Decrease muscle tiredness and soreness
  • Promote muscle healing and recovery
  • Improve focus and attention span
  • Increase energy levels
  • Strengthen the immune system

Improper nutrition can lead to fatigue, dehydration and poor health, impacting performance.

What Helps Someone Achieve Peak Performance?

Active individuals and athletes have different nutritional needs than non-active individuals. Therefore, each person has an individualized plan based on their exercise volume and intensity. Experts in sports nutrition can help athletes plan their optimal diet with timing for meals and hydration to meet their individual goals.

Active individuals must consume more calories and macronutrients (carbohydrates, fats and protein) to fuel their active lifestyles. For high-activity events, active individuals often adjust their diet a few days before to adjust for the upcoming energy depends.

  • Carbohydrates: These macronutrients are the preferred fuel source for active individuals as they supply the blood glucose demands during exercise. Additional carbohydrates help maintain liver and glycogen stores. Glycogen is stored in the liver, and when the body needs more energy, it breaks glycogen into glucose. Therefore, individuals should consume electrolyte drinks with glucose and other carbohydrates during more extended, active periods.
  • Protein: Active individuals need to ingest more than the recommended daily amount of protein to help build and repair muscle and tissues. Higher protein amounts can help prevent injuries and muscle wasting over time. Therefore, increasing protein after an activity can support muscle building and repair. The specific amount of protein depends on the type of exercise and individual needs.
  • Fat: Healthy fats serve as a concentrated fuel source and help with satiety. The fat percentage in the diet needs to match the energy demands during high activity times. For more prolonged endurance activities, the body needs more fats. Fats help meet essential fatty acid requirements and the processing of fat-soluble vitamins: K, A, D, E. Individuals need guidance on a specific plan based on their body composition and exercise.

In addition, active people need more hydration and may benefit from specific vitamins and minerals. Inadequate hydration can cause muscle cramps, fatigue and a risk of complications like heat stroke. The amount and type of hydration depend on individual factors such as seat rate, altitude and activity length. Sports nutrition experts can help create specific food and hydration plans for each client.

How Can Changes in Nutrition Impact Performance?

Active individuals achieve peak performance through training and nutrition. Good eating practices must be lifelong habits, with adjustments in eating before, during and after activity. For example, nutrition professionals can help clients learn to choose certain foods, adjust macronutrient composition or change the timing, type and amount of intake. After-activity nutrition is just as crucial as pre-activity nutrition. Nutritious eating replaces lost nutrients during exercise, helping the body replace energy and repair muscles.

In addition to nutrition, peak performance requires a mindset that guides everyday choices, decisions and actions. It may include engaging in positive self-talk, employing mental imagery and working on coping skills. Part of the mindset is knowing there is an optimal diet plan to fuel movement, power the brain and recover and repair after an activity.

Understanding fitness through nutrition is critical to increasing the quality of life for all individuals. Lamar University’s online Master of Science in Nutrition with a Specialization in Sports Nutrition program prepares graduates for success in various positions such as academia, commercial, government or the private sector. Graduates learn to analyze diet and health status expertly, assess nutritional deficiencies and provide evidence-based nutrition and lifestyle guidance.

Learn more about Lamar University’s online Master of Science in Nutrition specializing in Sports Nutrition program.

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