| By Irina Belfer-Lehat
Photo credit:Thinkstock Images

The foods that we eat provide the energy and fuel that our body needs. An athlete's body has different needs and requirements in order to optimize their athletic performance. A lot of people have misconceptions about different food groups, as some try to avoid carbohydrates, while others avoid fat. This type of dieting is called a “Fad Diet” and is never a good idea, especially for an athlete. An athlete needs all the food groups, specifically: Grains, vegetables, fruits, oils, milk, and meat and beans.

Carbohydrates, such as sugar and starch, are readily broken down into glucose, the principal energy source of the body. Glucose can be used immediately or it can be stored in the liver and muscles as glycogen. Blood glucose serves as the most significant source of energy for the brain at rest and during exercise. The capacity of your body to store muscle and liver glycogen is limited to about 90-120 min. of continuous, vigorous activity. If you ever hit the wall while exercising, now you know why. That is why it is equally important to include protein and fat in your diet.

Fat is the body's most concentrated source of energy, providing more than twice as much potential energy as carbohydrates or protein (nine calories per gram, versus four calories per gram). During exercise, stored fat in the body in the form of triglycerides in adipose or fat tissue, is broken down into fatty acids. These fatty acids are transformed through the blood to the muscles and are used for fuel.

Protein is not being maintained in the body for use of energy. Protein is needed to build and repair body tissue, as well as synthesize important enzymes and hormones. Protein, however, provides energy in late stages of prolonged exercise.

Elite tennis players require different types and amounts of fuel than most recreational players, a registered dietitian can help accurately estimate your daily caloric needs and assist you in formulating a meal plan that will enhance your athletic achievements.


Irina Belfer-Lehat

Irina Belfer-Lehat of Nutrition Solutions Co. is a New York State-licensed dietitian and certified dietitian-nutritionist. Irina Lehat RD Nutrition Solutions offers group classes starting in September, for kids in kindergarten through high school. Small groups, affordable prices! Mention this article and receive 20 percent off any services. For more information, call (917) 769-8031, e-mail irinalehat@gmail.com or visit www.irinalehat.com.