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Athletes' Special Requirements

One of the main considerations for athletes is the amount of energy they are able to consume in their food. Athletes can have high calorie needs, for example, the energy expenditure of Tour de France cyclists is the highest recorded for any athletic event.

To maintain their weight during the 23 days of racing, many of these cyclists have to eat more than 6,000 calories during competition days. Since dietary calories are crucial for athletic performance, many athletes participating in endurance sports have been advised to consume diets containing 60 to 70 percent of their total calories in carbohydrate. Many in the scientific community recommend eight to ten grams per kilogram for athletes in hard training and competition. This is often obtained by eating frequent small meals (at lest four to six per day).

It is also important for an athlete to obtain sufficient protein in their diet. Many athletes need more than the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) of 0.8 grams per kilogram body weight per day. Nitrogen balance studies in endurance athletes show the requirement for protein may be between about 1.0 and 1.8 grams per kilogram per day, and that strength athletes may need up to 2.0 grams per kilogram per day.

Athletes' vitamin and mineral requirements

Hard training and competition places special demands on an athletes body. A sound diet will be the foundation of providing the nutrients needed. This diet will:

The following are the suggested level of vitamin and mineral intake:

This level of intake can generally be achieved by eating a good diet and taking a multivitamin and mineral supplement once or twice per day with meals. Should any particular deficiency be present this may need additional supplementation.

Generally, there are three major reasons given by elite athletes for their use of supplements. The first is to compensate for less than adequate diets or lifestyles; the second is to meet unusual nutrient demands induced by heavy training; and, finally, to produce a direct ergogenic effect upon performance. Some athletes also feel dietary supplements can compensate for tiredness and loss of appetite during heavy training and competition.

Many athletes report incidences of "sports anemia." Some cases of low hemoglobin levels can be explained by temporary increases in plasma volume. However, others suffer from reduced iron status and true iron deficiency. While the level of iron status representing a deficiency has yet to be determined, there is general agreement over the clinical management of iron deficiency. Oral supplements in the form of a ferrous salt (gluconate, sulphate or fumarate) are most commonly used, providing from 100 to 200 milligrams of iron per day.

Athletes should ensure that they are actually iron deficient before taking iron supplements in these dosages.

It has also been found that a number of athletes and in particular cyclists are low in vitamin B1 and B6 intakes. Also during competition some athletes develop deficiencies in vitamin A, vitamin C, the B vitamins (vitamin B1, vitamin B2, vitamin B3 and vitamin B6).

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Burke, E.R 1999, What Olympic Athletes Eat

Grandjean, A. C.1989, Macronutrient Intake of US Athletes Compared to the General Population and Recommendations for Male Athletes. Am. J. Clin. Nutr., 49.

Grandjean, A. C. & Ruud, J. S. 1994, Olympic Athletes, In Wolinsky, I. & Hickson, J. F. eds. Nutrition in Exercise and Sport. Boca Raton, Fl.: CRC Press,

Kirsch, K. A. & von Ameln, H. 1981, Feeding Patterns of Endurance Athletes. Eur. J. of Appl. Phys. 47.

Saris, W. H. M., et al. 1989, Study on Food Intake and Energy Expenditure During Extreme Sustained Exercise: The Tour de France. Int. J. Sports Med.

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Athletes, from Olympic competitors to the casual 10-K runners, need to take care with their diets. Athletes need to stay healthy and injury free. Careful food selection and vitamins and minerals are a part of dietary program that is needed to support an athlete.