Sports nutrition guide for high-intensity athletes


By Franz Gliederer, MD, MPH, and the pH health care professionals

In my younger days, I was a track and field athlete. But I had no idea about sports nutrition. However, I did pay attention to what made me perform better or worse. Having more carbs was fine, especially for running, jumping and other cardiovascular exercises. But fats and greasy foods made my body more sluggish.

A runner might eat more carbohydrates because his muscles will use them for energy, whereas fats and proteins are converted to energy much slower.

How should an athlete’s diet be broken down?

For high-endurance athletes, carbohydrates can make up to 65 percent of your diet. Fats should include a healthy balance between omega-3s/6s, and other unsaturated/saturated oils should constitute between 20-30 percent of your total daily calories. 10-30 percent of your daily calories can be proteins (best consumed in 20g amounts 4-6 times a day).

What about hydration?

Short bursts of high-intensity exercise for up to one hour may just require water replacement. Beyond 1-1.5 hours of intense exercise, your body likely needs mineral replacement and some 30-60 grams of carbs per additional hour in order to perform optimally.

The amount of fluids you need is influenced by how much you are sweating, the temperature and intensity of your workout. Generally, the longer you exercise, and the more heavily you sweat, the greater your need for a sports drink to help replace these lost micronutrients.

Ingestion of about 16 oz of water before a strenuous activity may be useful as well. Other ingredients like low-dose caffeine 70mg, taurine, ginseng, L-carnitine, ginkgo biloba, and vitamins B and C were shown to be helpful.

What supplements may be beneficial for athletes?

Omega3 fish oils: Usually 1g of DHE/EPA is sufficient to provide a healthy amount for improving blood flow and function of very small arteries, which are essential to exercise performance. Fish oils also cause blood thinning, allowing red blood cells to carry oxygen into even smaller blood vessels.

L-Carnitine: L-carnitine plays important roles in muscle energy facilitation. Deficiency is associated with impaired muscle function. Carnitine levels drop during high-intensity exercise, but also contributed to somewhat less lactic acid build up than placebo in a study.

Creatine: Creatine was shown to increase strength between 8-14 percent in conjunction with muscle mass with resistance training compared to placebo. Optimal dosing usually at f 0.1 g/kg of body weight is advised, probably with an initial loading dose of 0.3g/kg. Excess use can cause damage to muscles, liver and enzymes.

Arginine: This is an amino acid known for its involvement in increasing amounts of cellular nitric oxide, as an ingredient for human growth hormone production, its involvement for creatine synthesis and its potential for optimizing exercise performance. Arginine was shown to increase performance of cyclers in a 20km race by 34 seconds, lowering oxygen consumption. Arginine is a precursor of nitric oxide, which helps to dilate blood vessels and decrease vascular resistance.

Taurine:  Taurine is a non-essential amino acid that plays roles in metabolism and can affect heart contraction and act as an antioxidant. Branched chained amino acids and taurine help to delay the onset of muscle soreness and muscle damage in high-intensity exercise.

Ginkgo biloba: Ginko is an herb known to stimulate blood flow in smaller vessels in aging people. Although ginkgo is frequently taken to stimulate mental functions, research also found that it could increase blood circulation, extend walking distance and decrease pain for people with peripheral artery disease.  

Ginseng: Ginseng is one of the most popular herbal supplements worldwide. Panax ginseng supplementation increased exercise performance in untrained adults. Other studies on exercise performance did not show any significant benefits for trained individuals.

Vitamin D: Research indicates benefits include an increase in strength, walking distance, and a decrease in general discomfort in older individuals. However, there is also evidence that exercise performance peaks during the summer when vitamin D levels tend to be at their best. Additional vitamin D supplementation during the winter months with low sun exposure is recommended.

Vitamin B complex: Vitamin B is involved in the metabolism of carbohydrates and fats for energy productionDeficiency of the B vitamins may impair both aerobic and anaerobic exercise performance. Excess supplementation of B vitamins with normal blood levels does not show performance improvement.

Zinc: Diets rich in carbohydrates may lead to zinc deficiency. Zinc is a component of over 300 enzymes, and some of them are related to physical performance. Zinc deficiency can cause fatigue, loss of body weight and decreased endurance.

Test don’t guess. Instead of popping some vitamins and minerals that you think will make you a better athlete, get your levels tested to see which vitamins, minerals, amino acids, enzymes and antioxidants you are low on so you can effectively target your deficiencies and expertly fine-tune your machine like a pro.

Enjoy Your Healthy Life!

The pH professional health care team includes recognized experts from a variety of health care and related disciplines, including physicians, attorneys, nutritionists, nurses and certified fitness instructors. This team also includes the members of the pH Medical Advisory Board, which constantly monitors all pH programs, products and services. To learn more about the pH Medical Advisory Board, click here.