Have you ever been playing a sport and just felt off, either physically or mentally? Your reaction time is a little slower, your natural sense of rhythm and timing just isn’t clicking, and your performance isn’t at the level you’re used to. While everyone has their bad days, yours may be more preventable than you think. There are several steps you can take to make sure that your performance is at the highest level all the time. Here are the keys to keeping your body well-nourished for top sports performance.
#1: Get enough sleep
One of the most important things you can do to optimize your physical and mental performance is to get enough sleep. While the perfect amount differs for everyone, adults should try to get 8 hours of sleep per night, and growing children and teenagers generally require 9-12 hours. Deep sleep is when your body rejuvenates itself; it builds muscle, replaces worn-out cells, and releases hormones to replenish your energy and nutrient stores that have been depleted by exercise.
Sleep deprivation increases your levels of the stress hormone cortisol, leading to increased anxiety and blood pressure, as well as decreased reaction times. Lack of sleep also deprives your muscles and cells of glycogen, the carbohydrate that powers your physical activity. This means you’re fatigued more quickly and unable to perform to your potential.
#2: Eat a balanced diet
Speaking of carbohydrates, your diet will also contribute to your performance. Eat a balanced diet that keeps your blood sugar levels steady and provides your body with enough protein, and you’ll see better results from training. Eat a diet full of empty carbohydrates, low protein and bad fats and you’ll find yourself lagging behind your competitors. Whether you’re an elite athlete or just learning how to play a sport like golf, your diet will affect your performance and your mood.
Make sure your diet includes complex, low-glycemic index carbs like leafy greens, whole grains, and brown rice. Even more importantly, eat enough protein to replenish and build muscle. If you’re doing a lot of pre-game working out and looking to build muscle, you’ll want to eat a gram of protein per pound of lean body weight. Finally, include good fats like avocados, fish oil, and coconut oil. These help your brain health, blood flow, and provide long-term energy stores when you’ve burned off all your carbohydrates.
#3: While you’re on the field
Despite the marketing pushes telling you that sports drinks are the key to recovery during a game, your biggest focus should be on simple hydration with water. Sports drinks may have a few helpful electrolytes, but many of them also pack a big load of simple sugars that will give you a brief spike but leave you sluggish after the initial spark.
Some athletes just put some sea salt or LiteSalt into their water to provide electrolytes without all the sugar and chemicals. You might also consider some of the powdered electrolyte additives available, or use coconut water. It’s low in sugar but full of helpful electrolytes to help maintain your fast-twitch muscles and mental focus.
If you’re running a marathon or playing a round of golf, proper nutrition during the event is a must. Focus on filling foods, like the Tiger Woods special — peanut butter and banana sandwich on whole-wheat bread. It’s easy to transport and provides a great blend of protein, fat, carbs and electrolytes.
Taking these simple steps to properly nourish your body can be the difference between winning and losing. Just like high-performance cars require high-quality gasoline and routine maintenance, your body needs a great diet and plenty of sleep to achieve tip-top performance.