The healthiest lifestyle for an athlete may vary from person to person, but there are many things you can do in your daily life to ensure you remain in good health and optimize your athletic performance. These factors extend beyond simply the healthiest foods for athletes to the importance of rest, balance and managing illness.
Nutrition and Hydration
Eating the right foods and drinking adequate amounts of water are crucial to your health and performance as an athlete. It's essential to replace as much lost fluid as possible during athletic performance by consistently replenishing fluids. Athletes also require a significant amount of carbohydrates, which provide the most energy using the least amount of oxygen, making them especially beneficial for taxing exercise. Carbohydrates are found in grain products like pastas, potatoes and cereal. The Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs recommends eating a carbohydrate-rich diet for a few days prior to intense athletic activity for maximum performance, rather than doing so constantly, as this method trains the body to only use carbohydrates as fuel. Fats, proteins and vitamins and minerals, like B vitamins, calcium, iron and potassium, are all other integral, energy-boosting components of an athlete's diet.
Supplements and drugs in every shape and form are a significant part of athletic culture. It's important to be educated about the safety of any supplemental product you might consume, as some -- particularly illicit, performance-boosting drugs -- can be quite dangerous. According to the Council for Responsible Nutrition, some of these products are safe for use, like energy bars or hydrating beverages. Dietary supplements and protein powders can also be beneficial to active populations. Other products, which help muscle recovery for instance -- such as creatine -- or products which contain stimulants, should be used only under careful consideration. Consult a health professional about what nutritional supplements are OK for you to use as part of a healthy exercise regimen.
While exercise is physically good for the body, competitive exercise can place a significant amount of stress on the individual. This stress can result in psychological manifestations, such as eating disorders among athletes. More than one-third of female athletes in a study of Division I NCAA athletes reported symptoms associated with an eating disorder. This can take a toll not only on your mental health, but your physical well being as well. Remain healthy by eating the recommended amount of well-balanced meals, managing your stress and talking to a health professional if you find yourself -- or others notice you -- engaging in patterns of disordered eating or excessive exercising. Professionals at Rice University recommend staying healthy as an athlete by listening to your body and consulting a physician about recurrent problems, like respiratory infections. Annual flu vaccines are also recommended.
Finding a Balance
Adequate rest and recovery time are crucial for every athlete, which means you need to learn to strike a balance in your schedule. Keep a training log and record how often you work out and how frequently you experience fatigue. If you experience excessive exhaustion, take more time off to rest. Anticipate stressors in advance and plan accordingly by allowing for more rest time. You should also keep regular track of your resting morning heart rate, which is an indicator of your ability to recover. If your heart rate continues to increase, this is a sign you're not allowing sufficient recovery time. Pay attention to mood changes or sleep disruption as these can also be signs your rest and recovery balance is off.
Alissa Fleck is a contributing writer for several community newspapers in New York City. She writes book reviews for an online magazine and hosts a monthly reading series. Fleck has also interned at a literary agency and worked as a university teaching assistant. She holds a B.A. in English and an M.F.A. in creative writing.