Although an athlete may train with the utmost dedication, he may not achieve the level of performance of which he is capable unless he provides his body with the proper fuel. Therefore, athletes are forever in search of magic potions that will enhance their energy, strength and stamina. However, they find that the diets promulgated in recent years by physicians, trainers, coaches, fellow athletes and pharmaceutical companies are confusing, to say the least. Should an athlete follow a high-protein diet? Should he restrict his sugar or salt intake? Does drinking beer help gain weight? Should he swallow five different kinds of vitamin pills a day plus a protein supplement? Should he overload on carbohydrates?
In a comprehensive study, Food for Sport (Bull Publishing Company, $4.95), Dr. Nathan J. Smith, professor of orthopedics at the University of Washington in Seattle, makes it clear that even if it has nutritional merit, no one dietary regimen is suitable for any large number of athletically active people. He has analyzed the nutritional requirements of athletes in all age groups, paying special attention to their particular sports, the level of performance they wish to attain and their need for desirable weight gain or loss. Along the way, Dr. Smith scuttles a few myths, such as the importance of a high-protein diet and the value of protein supplements. He points out that a basic diet provides abundant protein; also, that protein is the least efficient source of energy and may even lead to loss of appetite and diarrhea. As for the vast selection of high-potency vitamins that are consumed by the majority of athletes, Dr. Smith asserts that such supplements usually far exceed the body's needs. "It has been said," he writes, "that American athletes have the most expensive urine in the world."
Dr. Smith provides answers to most any nutritional question an athlete may have, and advocates a healthy, balanced diet in which foods rich in carbohydrates, the most efficient and readily available source of energy, are an essential element. His chapter on energy demands, which deals with carbohydrate restriction followed by carbohydrate loading before an important competition, should be of particular interest to the high-performance athlete.
It is regrettable that few athletes are properly guided in their search for energy sources, especially in the U.S. Dr. Smith, for one, has far more to offer than a plate of spaghetti or a stack of pancakes.