Serious athletes push their limits to become stronger and faster. A key feature of physical activity is that it increases the rate of energy use, causing athletes to have a greater need for energy nutrients (carbohydrate, protein, and fat) (Bernardot, 2006). The practice of sports nutrition has evolved over the years and has become increasingly complex. At one time, the focus was on achieving a high protein intake, especially animal protein. This idea is attractive since it is easy to believe that a high intake of protein will support the building and repair of muscle proteins. In the latter part of the last century, the focus shifted. It was recognized that an adequate intake of protein is essential for all athletes; however, the role of carbohydrate and water became the focus of sports nutrition strategies (Maughan, 2011). Serious athletes recognize that adoption of a dietary strategy that meets their nutritional goals will maximize the possibility of competitive success. The athletes who correctly match energy and nutrient needs to their training schedules are ultimately the ones who succeed.
Athletes typically have a higher protein requirement because of a greater lean mass per unit of weight (i.e., a lower body-fat percentage), a greater need for tissue repair, and the small amount of protein burned as a source of fuel during physical activity. This increases the protein requirement for athletes to approximately double the amount for nonathletes. An athlete’s protein requirement is approximately 1.5 grams per kilogram, with a typical requirement rangeof between 1.2 and 1.7 grams per kilogram (Bernardot, 2006). Although protein is critically important to health and most certainly plays a role in sustaining and enlarging muscle mass, reducing muscle soreness, and improving muscle recovery, consuming excessively large doses of protein does little to improve athletic performance when it replaces carbohydrate (Willmore, 1976).
The importance of carbohydrate as a fuel for exercise has been recognized since the early 1920s. Athletes need carbohydrates, regardless if the exercise is anaerobic or aerobic. This is evident because muscles require carbohydrates as a fuel source during exercise. Glucose is the main fuel for the creation of muscular energy, which is in the form of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) (Bernardot, 2006). When a muscle runs out of its stored sugar supply, the athlete will “hit the wall” (Willmore, 1976). To prevent this from happening, ensuring a high dietary carbohydrate intake in training is encouraged for all athletes to allow consistent intensive training without the risk of chronic fatigue, illness, and injury (Maughan, 2011).
Athlete requirements for carbohydrates are based on several factors. Athletes must consume enough carbohydrates to provide energy to satisfy the majority of caloric needs; optimize glycogen stores; allow for muscle recovery after physical activity; provide a well-tolerated source of energy during...