Sports Nutrition

High Altitudes

It can be extremely rewarding to successfully reach the summit of a high altitude hike. The achievement will be a memory of a lifetime, and the surrounding views can motivate an athlete to desire the interest of conquering it again in the future. Choosing the proper equipment and gear, and training for several months in advance will help make the execution process more victorious. But, aside from this wonderful achievement, several factors must be considered before performing a hike at this magnitude.

High Altitudes Factors That Should Be Considered

High altitudes impose an enormous challenge on an athlete’s physical performance which also results in several important aspects to adjust before and during the process. Higher altitudes typically mean colder temperatures (which can be extreme), oxygen concentration is much lower (to breathe in), and the terran can be significantly harsh, compared to what an athlete is use to training on. Several health risk factors are noted when competing or challenging oneself to high altitudes: changing from low to high altitudes quickly can result in headaches, nausea, reduced interest in appetite, tissue loss may result from difficulty with eating and drinking, and serious dehydration may result from maintaining a minimal fluid balance ( Benardot, 2012).

High Altitude Exercise and Nutrition Needs

A series of physiological adjustments may help an athlete to acclimatize to this type of environment:

  • “An increase in ventilation, termed the hypoxic ventilatory response (from 14 breaths per minute to 20-plus breaths per minute compared with the same activity at sea level)

  • A catecholamine-mediated increase in heart rate

  • A catecholamine-mediated increase in cardiac output

  • Eventual pulmonary, hematologic, and tissue adaptations that occur over several days provided the increase in altitude is gradual (rapid ascents that provide inadequate adaptation time are associated with high risk of high-altitude sickness)” (Benardot, 2012, pg. 203).

Adapting to a lower-oxygen environment is crucial for an athlete to do before undergoing a vigourous hike at high altitudes. One of the most successful ways to go about this process is to increase the amount of red blood cells by altering the cardiac output, breathing techniques, and the diffusion of oxygen from the the blood to the cells. Ensuring adequate intake of calories, iron, folic acid, and vitamin B-12 is a perfectly healthy and legal way of increasing red blood cells in the human body. Maintaining proper clothing during temperature changes throughout the hike is also vital to help prevent the body from too much heat loss or gain. Athletes should maintain a healthy conscious to eat frequently throughout the hike (Benardot, 2012, pg. 208).


An athlete who is interested in foregoing a tough hike, should prepare oneself with the proper equipment, training, and understanding of what to expect. Acknowledging the risks that factor in during a high altitude hike will help the athlete lower the chances of these risks setting in, ultimately making the hike an enjoyable and memorable one.


Various sports place special nutritional requirements on the human system, which helps keep the athlete fully functioning. Sports that require higher level power over short distances have a high anaerobic component which rely on phosphocreatine and glycogen as fuel (Benardot, 2012). Over the years, nutrition has played a vital role in athletic performance. As science evolves, nutrition take a front row seat in an athlete's daily life. Olympians around the world have found their nutritional plans according to their knowledge of how muscles work for power and speed. Amateur athletes that reside at home under the care of their parents have a difficult time with proper nutrition due to the fact that most parents are not engaged in the same activities as their children, therefore lack the knowledge and understanding of what foods are vital for their child’s performance. “A failure to consider the nutrition implications of the activity will most certainly lead to problems in training and to performance outcomes that are below the capabilities of the athlete” (Benardot, 2012, pg. 254).

The American Sport

“Football is the epitome of an anaerobic sport, with the length of plays almost never exceeding 15 seconds, followed by a rest period between each play. However, when the ball is in play, the players are giving maximal muscular effort to move, or stop the movement of, the ball” (Benardot, 2012, pg. 262). The fear of athletes endangering their health due to the desire to attract attention from college recruiters is a large concern for coaches and supporting staff. Research has shown that adolescent football players are gaining weight at an earlier age and doctors are extremely concerned over the long term health of these young athletes. Keeping track of athletes body fat is extremely important, and most teams have professional medical staff such as sports medicine doctors and trainers that can monitor this. There are several methods to measure body fat, and they range from inexpensive to extremely expensive. Often times, body fat calipers and scales are used for high school athletes. Parents can also have their children measured at their doctor's office. NFL players have professional trainers that test their body fat levels with expensive procedures such as, water displacement and DEXA (X-Ray) scanning.

Monitoring an Athlete’s Diet

Monitoring a young athlete's diet is crucial for their future health and success. There’s nothing wrong with football players gaining lean muscle weight- as long as it does not come with fat. Athletes, coaches, and parents must understand that bigger does not always mean, better. Coaches and nutritionist should help motivate and educate athletes parents of the rising concern over health issues. Nutritionist can help motivate and alter parents eating habits at home, which will also change the way their kids eat. Setting a positive example at home can lead a young athlete towards a proper nutritious lifestyle. When parents understand the heavy burden of weight that football players have to carry around at practice, they will understand the importance of a well balanced diet for muscle repair and energy requirement. When athletes have a clear understanding of their health and future possibilities in sports, they are motivated to living a healthier lifestyle- working out, eating healthy, and getting a proper amount of sleep. Coaches and nutritionist can also offer healthy snacks and drinks during and after practice. This will also help motivate a team to eat the right foods and consume the right fluids. Nutritionist can also come up with fun and tasty snacks and drinks for younger athletes- this way, they do not lose interest from a boring or bland tasting food. Selecting the right type of foods can help a young athlete maintain his/her energy throughout the day and during practice.


Marathon runners and swimmers must acquire enough oxygen to their working muscles in order to continue at the physical speed and work that is being performed. “Endurance work occurs at intensities below a person’s maximal work capacity. Working at a higher or maximal capacity exceeds the athlete’s capacity to meet oxygen needs” (Benardot, 2012, pg. 294). There is a significant difference between sprinters and long distance runners. Distance runners may not be able to run as fast as sprinters, but they can often times run for a longer duration because they are metabolizing energy. Several factors play into reason for the difference between aerobic and anaerobic performance.

Important Factors to Consider

Overtraining, overuse injuries, and dietary adequacy are three major areas that should be considered to maintain efficiency during performance.


-Overtraining is a common issue among several athletes, and if overlooked, symptoms such as lack of good sleep, swollen lymph nodes, prone to illness, and possible loss of appetite may occur. Overtraining can easily reduce performance and set an athlete back due to the body working harder to adequately recover. Listening to an athlete and understanding signs of overtraining is important for a coach to be aware of in order to reduce the probability of injury of the athlete.

Overuse Injuries

It is common among athletes to develop harmless injuries such as recurring blisters on the foot. But, there are more serious injuries such as stress fractures that are caused from an athlete pounding their legs on hard pavement. “ Loss of mental capacity, which can easily occur with either a carbohydrate or fluid storage deficit, causes a breakdown in coordination that can increase structural stresses that lead to injury” (Benardot, 2012, pg. 294). Changing the dynamics of how and where an athlete trains, and not pushing through what most athletes consider a small injury will help reduce recurring stress of an athlete's body.

Dietary Adequacy

When an athlete’s glycogen is low, the possibilities of prolonged exercise is tremendously reduced. “The timing of carbohydrate ingestion is also important and may influence glycogen storage and resynthesis” (Benardot, 2012, pg. 294). Most endurance athletes do not consume carbohydrates immediately after a race which indicates a loss in the ability to maximize muscle glycogen storage, which can have a negative effect on the athlete’s ability to perform during long durations.


Athletes and coaches should understand the important factors during training and competition and be aware of dietary needs, overtraining, and recurring injuries. In order to improve an athlete’s performance, one must work hard, have a great nutrition plan, and get a lot of rest. In return, an athlete is at a higher level of performance.


The higher the volume, power, speed, and time an athlete trains, the more important a proper nutritional plan is for speedy recover. Indication of structured meal plans presented to professional athletes show positive signs of the athlete staying focused and retaining the proper weight necessary for placement in sport specific activities. Adequate consumption of protein, carbohydrates, and fats are vital for an athlete to consume, at the right time. Most athletes consume enough calories from food alone, and often times too much protein (with added byproducts). Endurance athlete (swimming, running, cyclists, rowers, etc.) endure long intense hours of training. In this case, the higher the volume of training, the more intake of calories needed to supply fuel to the body- as well as proper fluids to keep the body hydrated. Power athlete focus their routine on strength to weight ratios, so they need to generate the greatest power at the lowest weight possible. It is important to consider, these athletes need the proper amount of protein to sustain and increase muscle mass. But, protein is not the only key element in power and strength sports.

Proper Nutrition for Athletes

Nutrition can help fight possible disease, provide energy to fuel an athlete's body, enhances athletic performance, and overall, helps keep the human body healthy. The recommended diet for a healthy non-athlete is not too far off from an athlete’s diet. Give or take a few items (which is due to muscle recovery, muscle gain- or sustain, and energy). Nutritional plans are considered based off of the type of sport the athlete is participating in, the intensity and duration of the sport. Understanding adequate consumption of the proper food and fluid is necessary during specific times, under training conditions. Often times this means consuming sufficient fluids before training, and large meals immediately after training- in order to supply the body with the proper nutrients for rest and repair. Timing is everything for an athlete, and a well developed and followed nutrition plan is vital for athletes to focus along with their training. In the case of not having the ability to eat shortly after a vigrous training session, most athletes consume byproducts (supplement) to quickly satisfy and nourish the body- but, these products do not always work the same way as actual food intake.


Achieving optimal success starts with a proper nutritional diet. Often times, young athletes get swept away with the idea of training, they lack the concept and knowledge behind nutrition, and often times choose their own path, which can be destructible. Athletes are driven to competition and challenged to win, and with little to no education on nutrition and proper eating during training, this can hinder their ability to further enhance their success- which often times leads to more harm than good. Athletes who keep their body weight too low (losing weight rapidly), or preventing weight gain, can lead to serious health issues, which can jeopardise their ability to perform in sports. “ The goal is to provide a guide for eating that gives athletes a starting point for developing the best possible eating strategy that is specific to their needs” (Benardot, 2012, pg. 337).


Antioxidants are known to be a helpful aid in the prevention of cellular damage: a pathway for aging, cancer, and several other diseases. Healthcare professionals that work closely with athletes have an extreme interest with the performance and recovery process when consuming foods with antioxidants. These molecules can safely interact with free radicals and detour the dangerous chain reaction that can be caused within the cellular process in the human body.

Free Radicals

Free radicals are short-lived and uncharged atoms (with an uneven number of electrons) that are formed in the body when oxygen interacts with certain molecules. Free radicals can pose a serious threat to the body when they come into contact and react with DNA or the cell membrane. If this process occurs, cells may die. Antioxidants are the defense system in the body that prevents free radicals from intercepting and causing potential damage (Sports Med Web, 1996). Free radicals occur in cells as a repercussion from enzymatic and nonenzymatic reactions. These reactions are involved in the respiratory chain, phagocytosis, prostaglandin synthesis, and cytochrome P-450 system (Lobo, Patil, Phatak, & Chandra, 2010).

The Need for Nutrients

Athletes and active individuals have a high need for carbohydrates, protein, and fat for energy purpose. These nutrients help provide and support the energy necessary for ensuring optimal performance with various intensities and endurance sports. “It is clear that the higher the exercise intensity, the greater the proportionate reliance on carbohydrate as a fuel, and many studies provide valuable insights on the best consumption patterns for optimizing glycogen stores, ensuring adequate carbohydrate availability during training and competition, and reducing muscle soreness and enhancing muscle recovery” (Benardot, 2012, pg. 20). Several foods offer a significant amount of antioxidants that may help reduce serious health complications. These foods are: berries, kiwi, broccoli, spinach, tea, seafood, milk, nuts, vegetable oil, avocados, red meats, and so much more. The role of antioxidants go hand in hand with free radicals and help aid in the process in protecting the cells against these atoms which may play a role in several risky diseases.


Benardot, D. (2012). Advanced sports nutrition (2nd ed). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

Lobo, V., Patil, A., Phatak, A, & Chandra, N. (2012, July-December). Free radicals, antioxidants and functional foods: Impact on human health. US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health, 4(8). Retrieved from

Sports Med Web. (1996, June). Antioxidants and Free Radicals. Retrieved from

Recommended Protein Intake

It stands to reason that athletes and active individuals need more protein and high quality-protein than those who are inactive on a daily basis. The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) states that the daily dosage needed of protein is 0.8g/kg of body weight per day. Children and pregnant women need more protein (g) per day (Institute of Medicine, 2005). While it is generally understood that athletes need more protein than those people who are inactive on the regular, recommendations of quantity of protein differ significantly depending on the type of athlete, body weight, their energy intake, what the overall goal is (weight loss/gain), exercise intensity and duration, quality of protein intake, and the individual's age. Other factors may be included.

Over-consumption of Protein

Protein is considered the number one source behind any level of fitness and competition. Most athletes are convinced that their success in sports and fitness is due to the extra protein they intake. “In fact, most athletes consume more protein than they require and, in doing so, may limit the intake of other essential nutrients that are critical to achieving athletic success” (Benardot, 2012, pg. 28). Athletes tend to believe that they need to consume more energy on hard training days, in and out of the gym. Overconsumption of protein is due to an athlete not properly educated from a sports nutritionist or dietitian. Some athletes start their breakfast with a (protein shake), lunch (chicken, beans, etc.) and another protein shake followed by an intense workout, then dinner (some form of high protein meat). Athletes continue a high protein diet even on off training days- “which can exceed the liver’s ability to convert nitrogen”, which can cause serious complications (Webb, 2014, para. 29).


Today people are surrounded with influences on how to eat properly and are encouraged to eat high protein diets for several reasons- such as weight loss. Protein and amino acids are related to muscle growth in the human body, therefore people believe they will build more muscle with an enriched protein diet- but little do they know that it can be extremely harmful, especially when other nutrients are cut out of the diet. Unfamiliar and uneducated athletes that work out on the daily, are influenced by their surrounding environment. Friends, colleagues, and teammates might have success with their diets, and may influence others to stick to the same diet. This leads to improper supplement intake and inefficient meal plans. Athletes should consider consulting with a dietitian and or a sports nutritionist in order to receive a properly structured meal plan. This will help reduce overconsumption of food and supplements. Athletes should never try to encourage their personal diets to others, instead, refer them to a professional that can collect pertinent information of the athlete, and properly put together a meal plan accordingly.


Benardot, D. (2012). Advanced sports nutrition (2nd ed). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

Institute of Medicine. (2005). Dietary Reference Intakes for Energy, Carbohydrate, Fiber, Fat, Fatty Acids, Cholesterol, Protein, and Amino Acids (Macronutrients). Washington, DC:The National Academies Press

Webb, D. (2014, June). Athletes and Protein Intake. Today’s Dietitian, 16(6). Retrieved from

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