diets for athletes
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The evolution of diets elite athletes follow through the ages

The diets elite athletes follow are different from the foods consumed by the average person.

Sports nutrition plays an important role in educating athletes about how their diets affect energy levels and overall athletic ability.

History of diets elite athletes observed

Before the modern age, the ancient Olympians engaged in competitive sports games. Early writings from Greek’s classical period describe dietary and training rituals which were observed by these early athletes. We don’t have a lot of detailed information about specific foods, but historians were able to gather enough facts to show that the diets were made up of vegetarian foods including figs, cereals, vegetables, fruits and legumes. Wine diluted with water was included. This is what historians believe was the early training diet for elite athletes. During the age of Pythagoras, meat became an important staple in the diet of athletes. Alcohol was also consumed from antiquity through modern times as far back as the 1908 Olympics.

Changes in elite athletes’ diets through the ages

We can look back to a related survey conducted in Helsinki, Finland in 1952. The report detailed the dietary intake of elite athletes preparing for Olympic competition. Although there were some variations from one person to another, a few general rules were followed. The calories daily calorie intake averaged 18,841 kj or 4,503 calories. The dietary intakes were distributed as 40% carbohydrate, 20% protein and 40% fat. These are averages and some figures were slightly different. Considerations for body size and weight are made in calculating the optimal diet plan. We’ve understood the importance of diet for elite athletes for decades.

Current dietary considerations for elite athletes

Olympians from the past had very different diets than the scientifically based recommendations provided through modern sports nutrition standards. The complex relationship between diet and energy levels has dictated yet further changes in diet are necessary. Elite athletes are counseled about the need for protein and carbohydrate intake in relation to their body weight and the activity type since the late 1980s. The science takes into account the amount of exercise, oxygen consumption, and muscle glycogen levels required for peak performance. Although studies continue to arrive at the best possible formulations, there are a few established rules that help each athlete to find their “ideal” diet.

Sports nutrition has revealed more details about the complexity

The lay person may not care about the deep theories about how the body relies upon certain nutrients to fuel the body for peak performance, but billion dollar sports industries do, hence the research and nitpicking about small details that leads to advanced theories about what constitutes the perfect formulation for dietary recommendations.

Today’s individualized dietary recommendations

Elite athletes follow individualised diets that are tailored to meet their specific body requirements for energy and performance. The alcohol consumption of the Olympians and participants of the first modern games is strongly discouraged. Instead, a diet that includes the consumption of protein, carbohydrates, fruits and vegetables and the proper amount of water for hydration rule the day. This is a simplification of the individualised plans that are based on the science of sports nutrition at present. The field is still in its infancy and with studies constantly underway, we expect the recommendations to evolve even more over the next century.


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