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A good diet for athletes will vary depending on the athlete's regular type of exercise and athletic activities. Regardless of the athletic activity, though, the best diet for athletes will always involve avoiding saturated fats and processed foods. Athletes who need to develop strength and muscle mass should generally attempt to consume high levels of protein, and endurance and aerobic athletes will tend to focus on consuming more carbohydrates. Fats are necessary, but athletes should try to consume them in moderation.
A common diet for athletes, especially those who are trying to build muscle mass, is a high protein diet. Consuming a large amount of protein is necessary for endurance athletes as well, though, so they can maintain the muscle mass that they already have. Protein is a primary component of any new muscle tissue that the body generates, so in order to build muscle, an athlete must eat high-protein foods such as meats and dairy products. Generally, an athlete who is trying to build muscle should attempt to eat a gram of protein for every pound (0.45 kg) that he or she weighs.
For endurance athletes and athletes who are attempting to improve their cardiovascular health, carbohydrates are vital because they provide a fast source of energy. The body generally stores enough energy in the form of carbohydrates to get the body through an average day. When an athlete exercises, however, the body burns carbohydrates much faster. In order to supply the body with sufficient amounts of energy, then, athletes who engage in sustained exercise need to take in large amounts of foods that contain carbohydrates, such as fruits and breads.
Carbohydrates also are a necessary part of the best diet for athletes who are trying to build muscle mass. Proteins are crucial in the development of muscle, but it also is crucial to consume enough carbohydrates for the body not to have to consume proteins during exercise. For this reason, athletes should consume carbs before, during and after an intense muscle-building workout.
Contrary to what many athletes believe, the best diet for athletes should contain some fat. Fat intake should not account for any more than 25 percent of the athlete's overall caloric intake. Also, the fat should not be saturated fat, so it is important to avoid fats from processed foods and sweets. Instead, an athlete should attempt to take in fat in healthier forms, such as through flaxseed oils or fish oils.
In addition to taking in the proper types of nutrition, athletes also should avoid unhealthy foods, especially processed foods. Sports drinks and supplements can be useful in providing the proper nutrition to the body, but it is important to ensure that these supplements do not contain chemicals and processed substances that can be harmful to the body. Similarly, when shopping for food, an athlete should choose fresh fruits and vegetables, lean meats and healthy dairy products rather than processed foods that are full of preservatives.