by Dr. Linda Arena
Field Hockey athletes automatically increase their nutritional energy needs due to the conditioning, practice, and game play demands of engaging in sport. Both vegetarian and non-vegetarian diets have the potential to be either beneficial or detrimental to performance. Athletes should not approach a vegetarian diet as a form of weight control.
People do not automatically lose weight by switching to a vegetarian diet. Eating and cooking habits effect either type of diet. Deep fried vegetables have more fat than a grilled skinless chicken breast. Vegetarians who rely on nuts and full fat dairy products for protein intake, and have a low intake of fruits and vegetables,could find themselves on a higher fat diet than a team mate whose menu includes lean meats along with adequate proportions of steamed vegetables and fresh fruits.
Also, which vegetables and fruits are consumed can have an effect on both the nutrients and calories obtained. For example, a single serving of corn is 140 calories, whereas broccoli contains 35 calories, and green beans, 40.
Field Hockey players need to address the increased energy demands posed by athletic performance with an adequate diet devoid of any nutritional deficiencies. This is the bottom line for optimal performance. The need to fuel the body is real. Yet female athletes in particular often feel peer and societal pressure "not to eat." Female models in popular magazines are, on average, 23% underweight. Vegetarian diets typically provide less protein then non-vegetarian diets. Protein plays a major part in maintaining muscle tissue. Athletes that are protein deficient can not perform to potential. Exercising individuals need up to 2.0 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. Plant foods contain less amino acids than do equivalent portions of animal food. It is important that a varied plant based diet is consumed.
A mixture of proteins from unrefined grains, legumes, seeds, nuts, and vegetables is recommended. Soy protein is a popular plant-based supplement used by some vegetarian athletes. Diets low in animal fats are often lower in total fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol. The ratio of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats to saturated fats is more favourable in a largely plant based diet.
Carbohydrates are known as the major source of "fuel" for athletes. Athletes are advised to eat 60 to 65 percent of their daily calories from complex carbohydrates (breads, cereals, grains, and vegetables) to build and replenish the glycogen used during exercise. Athletes concerned with calories should consume the bulk of daily carbohydrate intake in the morning or at lunch so that adequate fuel is necessary for afternoon practice and games. Weight conscious athletes should consume less of their daily carbohydrate intake in the evening. Low glycaemic index foods like pasta, soy, apples and peanuts are recommended prior to exercise.
Research has shown that athletes short of dietary carbohydrate, fatigue faster, and make more mental errors. High glycaemic index foods, like rice cakes and biscuits, when consumed after exercise assist in faster glycogen restoration. Athletes are cautioned however that carbohydrates, if eaten in excess, will be deposited as fat. Proper balance is the key.
Post game nutrition also entails replacing fluid lost during activity. The body recovers faster after a tough work-out when an athlete consumes water, juices, and watery foods like oranges. Not only do fluids transport fuel to working muscles, but they also remove metabolic waste from the body.
Both vegetarian and non-vegetarian athletes may have difficulty meeting iron needs. Women have greater iron requirements from the onset of menarche to menopause. Meat is a major source of iron in a standard diet. Examples of sources of iron from plant foods are dark green leafy vegetables, iron-fortified cereals, and whole grains. Choose whole or unrefined rather than refined grain products whenever possible. The body's absorption of iron can be inhibited by the intake of tea and fibre. It can be enhanced by the concurrent consumption of Vitamin C or ascorbic acid.
While the body's requirement of Vitamin B- 1 2 is small, there is no Vitamin B- 12 in anything that grows from the soil. Common sources of B-12 for vegetarians include fortified soy milk, select fortified cereals, or a cobalamin supplement. The selection of a vegetarian or non-vegetarian diet can effect athletic performance. A field hockey player needs to be mindful that essential nutrients, through wise calorie consumption are needed for the energy necessary for top level play.
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