Fueling Athletes for Winter Sports

Dave Ellis
Today’s post comes from Dave Ellis, RD, CSCS.   Ellis is a sports dietitian, who counsels athletic programs on nutrition and teaches athletes how to eat the right foods on a sensible schedule to fuel performance, prevent muscle cramps, finish strong and recover well. He is also a member of ENC’s Health Professional Advisor panel.

Winter sports mean shorter days and colder weather which usually translates to lower Vitamin D exposures. The coaching points for winter sport athletes are to focus in on the value of sleep, proper nutrition including antioxidant intake from fresh produce, and adequate Vitamin D from food/supplements. In addition, several supplements are available that may be used to enhance the athlete’s diet and potentially reduce the seasonal challenges that these athletes face.With sports like hockey and basketball that compete indoors we see significant seasonal drops in Vitamin D status by midseason which has all kinds of compromised immune and recovery implications for athletes. Because Vitamin D is a fat soluble nutrient it’s not hard to find a Omega-3, Vitamin D combination product to incorporate into an athlete’s daily diet. The Omega-3’s might have an emerging role for athletes with fragmented sleep patterns, as well as some protective benefits for concussions.

More advanced seasonal immune interventions for athletes that are gaining traction involve something commonly found in egg yolk called IgY that marks pathogens for attack by our immune system. Something like beta-glucan derived from baker’s yeast that primes the immune system for a robust immune response to those marked pathogens. It’s often not the most talented team that emerges in the spring that wins the championship after a long winter; it’s often the team that manages to minimize unnecessary downtime due to illness! Healthy teams have deep rosters that can spread the beating out over the course of a long season vs. running a few health athletes into the ground because of a short bench.

Sports RDs play a critical role in empowering athletes to get their rest, distribute health meals over the day and fortify the challenge immune systems episodically with some of the immune enhancing foods listed. All of these positive steps can be mitigated if athletes use alcohol and drugs so the work of the Sports RD to educate and help establish some meaningful accountability on these challenging social issues is just as important. To learn more about Sports RDs and how they enhance the athlete’s nutrition status through food and supplements, go to www.sportsrd.org.

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