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Crafting diet for peak performance discussed

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For athletes to perform at their best, they need a carefully crafted diet to fuel them.

Dr. Raphael Longobardi, an assistant professor of clinical orthopedic surgery at New York University, shared insight on putting together that optimal nutritional plan in a presentation called "Supplements and the High School Athlete" on Dec. 1 at Northern Highlands Regional High School. The lecture, which drew a handful of people, was the final presentation in Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation’s Sports Education Lecture Series.

[Supplements has] become more and more a topic of concern regarding what athletes are taking, what they’re not taking, what they can do, what they can’t do to try to improve their performance," said Longobardi, who has served on the medical staff of several professional and collegiate teams, including roles as team physician for the New York Islanders and the New York/New Jersey MetroStars and consultant for the Florida Marlins.

Proper general dietary guidelines serve as a foundation for optimal athletic performance, Longobardi said.

"The whole goal of this is a well-designed diet that is going to meet energy need intake and incorporate that with proper timing of energy intake so that they can have a good foundation for a good training program," Longobardi said.

Having an energy deficient diet leads to loss of muscle mass, increased susceptibility to illness and overtraining, which can cause psychological effects, he said.

To perform high-level athletic activities, people need to not only have a certain intake of calories, but certain kinds of them – specifically protein and carbohydrates – to optimize their performance and recovery from exercise.

Longobardi recommended complex carbohydrates, whole grains and fruit as sources of carbohydrates and for protein suggested chicken, fish and milk.

"A study has shown that plain, old chocolate milk gives you everything you need as far as both carbohydrates and protein for the individual who’s exercising and recovering from exercise," he said.

Longobardi added that a certain amount of fat must be consumed to fuel the body.

He said proper timing of energy intake also is key for optimal performance, but can be difficult for a high school athlete. Longobardi said the pre-exercise meal should be eaten four to six hours before the event, with a light carbohydrate/protein load 30 minutes to an hour prior to exercise. The post-exercise meal ideally should be consumed 30 minutes to two hours following the activity.

While following proper general dietary guidelines serves as a foundation for optimal performance, supplements can fuel those who participate in activities involving extreme athletic exertion such marathons and the Tour de France, where caloric needs can approach 12,000 per day, Longobardi said.

He defined a supplement as any product taken by mouth that contains a dietary ingredient, and said there are at least 100 companies making supplements. Longobardi spoke positively of creatine, which he said has been found to be one of the most effective supplements for gaining muscle mass.

"The word on the street about taking creatine [is] you have to worry about your kidney, but when you’re taking the monohydrate form and you’re taking it in the recommended dosage, it’s been found to be both safe and effective for being a muscle building supplement," he said.

Longobardi also said if taken in certain doses prior to an athletic event, caffeine has been shown to increase endurance and performance, but added that "chronic" caffeine users don’t experience that same bump.

"Having a prudent training program as well as an energy-balanced and energy-rich diet, along with adequate rest, are going to be the pillars of what the athlete needs as far as being better, performing better, gaining strength and speed," Longobardi said in concluding the roughly one-hour presentation.

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