Nutrition for a competing athlete – sports nutrition

The Tokyo 2020 Olympics will take place from 23 July 2021 to 8 August 2021 after a one-year delay and much difficulties due to COVID-19. The postponement can be an impediment to an athlete’s chances of winning as they have to maintain their body at peak performance. One important aspect of their training is nutrition, specifically sports nutrition. I spoke to Goh Kok Wei, a dietetic officer at the National Sports Institute to find out more about an athlete’s nutrition.

Malaysian athletes representing in Tokyo Olympics 2020 pre-flight on 17 July 2021. Photo: Olympic Council of Malaysia.

1. What is sports nutrition?

It is an application of nutrition knowledge to enhance sports performance.

2. How is sports nutrition different from nutrition advice from personal trainers in gym?

Some personal trainers may take extra courses, as well as additional sports nutrition course, and so in that aspect, it is similar as they have some knowledge of sports nutrition.

The difference of nutrition advice from a dietitian compared to a personal trainer is that dietitians are well-trained to conduct detailed nutrition assessment. Thus, they may apply different nutrition interventions based on the condition of the client or patient. For example, personal trainers may tell clients to consume higher carbohydrates for endurance sports, but a dietitian may suggest differently based on the individual’s need and condition.

3. Could you provide examples of sports nutrition advice?  

Examples of advice I would give include:

  • what an athlete should eat 7 days before the competition, 4 hours before competition, nutrition recommendation during the games, and nutrition strategy after the games or nutrition strategy after training;
  • what to eat during training days; and
  • type and amount of fluid intakes during competition and training days.

An example of a general recommendation is, for endurance sports such as road cycling, athletes should consume 10 – 12g of carbohydrate per kilogram body weight per day.

For track cycling, I will plan a diet and menu for the athlete to maximize his/her body composition (such as reduce body fat or increase muscle mass) to improve his/her power to weight ratio.

Goh Kok Wei is a registered dietitian specializing in sports nutrition.

4. Is the advice different for women and men from the same sport?

Yes, because women respond to the diet or nutrients such as carbohydrate and fat differently. Other than that, hormonal changes during different phases of menstrual cycle also affect performance of female athletes.

5. Could someone change their diet to change their body in order to become an athlete?

I think it depends on which sport. Merely changing one’s diet can alter their body and make their physique look great, but athletes need to perform at a peak level or excel at their respective sports, not just participation. In order to achieve peak performance, the athlete needs to come in a “package” which includes aspects other than dietary body health.

We wish our Malaysian athletes good luck in Tokyo Olympics 2020!

Goh Kok Wei has cared for athletes in various sports categories over his 13-year service, including Wushu, weightlifting, bowling, basketball and para-sports. Those athletes have represented or is representing Malaysia in international games.

Chi Yean Ng is a content writer under Headliner by Newswav, a programme where content creators get to tell their unique stories through articles and at the same time monetize their content within the Newswav app.
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Chi Yean Ng
Author: Chi Yean Ng