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Want an extra edge at your next sporting event? We often see improvements in performance with training and believe we have reached our maximum potential, but having the right foods before, during, and after a game or competition will increase your physical and mental performance even more.
The best nutritional strategy will be to consume adequate calories, protein, and carbohydrates, which should be calculated by a dietitian. However, we forget the impact micronutrients like iron, vitamin D, calcium, and antioxidants can have. Training increases our needs of these micronutrients, and we are at an even greater risk of deficiency if we are in a weight-related sport that requires weight control, such as wrestling, boxing and mixed martial arts.
Iron is a mineral that is responsible for transporting oxygen to our muscles. Iron deficiency can lead to anemia, which has symptoms of mental and physical fatigue, which would have an effect on overall performance. However, athletic performance can be impaired with an iron deficiency whether you are anemic or not. The majority of athletes who are iron-deficient are so because of either low meat intake or overall low caloric intake. Animal sources of iron like eggs and beef contain heme-iron, which is better absorbed than iron obtained from plant sources. Certain conditions also increase our iron needs. These include rapid growth (in children and adolescents), training at high altitudes (skiers), menstruation and recent blood donations (blood loss), or certain injuries. If the training is very intense, there can also be iron losses in sweat, urine, and feces.
Therefore, it is crucial to meet iron requirements. Some good sources of iron include beef, eggs, dark leafy greens, beans, lentils, tuna, tofu, and fortified cereals. Remember to add a source of vitamin C like citrus, strawberries or red peppers when you consume an iron-rich food that is plant-based! Also, avoid drinking tea or coffee during meals because they can reduce iron absorption. It is best to wait at least one hour after a meal to enjoy your tea or coffee.
The majority of athletes tend to consume little Vitamin D and diet alone may not provide enough of the micronutrient for athletes, which is why supplementation may be needed. Those at greater risk for deficiency are those who train indoors most of the time, early in the morning or late in the evening. This is because our main source of vitamin D actually comes from sunlight coming into contact with our skin during the summer months in Canada. However, for the moment, we do not have enough studies to determine the amount of supplementation needed for athletes.
Until we get our answer, athletes with a history of stress fracture, bone or joint injury, signs of over training, muscle pain or weakness, and a lifestyle involving low exposure to sunlight as described above may require vitamin D assessment to determine if they are deficient and require supplementation.