Whether you're hitting the gym after a long day at the office or toeing the line for your first marathon, your body relies on athletic performance to complete every curl and run every mile. From nutritious diets to personal training programs, the concept of athletic performance isn't based upon one singular aspect of fitness but a combination of factors that influence your athletic ability. And it's tailored to every form of physical activity, from swimming to sprinting.
Maybe you've heard of "athletic performance" before but have yet to fully understand what it means and how you can influence it to strengthen your own abilities. From elite athletes to amateurs, we all have the opportunity to fine-tune this broad concept. Let's take a deeper dive into this topic to determine exactly what athletic performance is, how it's influenced, and what it means for your overall health.
What Is Athletic Performance?
Athletic performance is an expression that's used to describe any effort made by an athlete to attain specific performance objectives over time. More than just physical movement, it's the sum of physiological and psychological factors that affect performance. The duration of time can also change depending on the person — some measure performance over the span of a single game and others over the span of an entire career.
Though we have standards we can use to measure athletic performance, individuals will ultimately measure performance on their own terms. For instance, a volleyball player might measure performance by how many times they block the ball at the net. On the other hand, soccer players might do so by calculating the total duration of time spent attacking.
Beyond bouts of physical activity, athletic performance is also based on how quickly an athlete can recover from activity and, from there, how quickly an athlete can return to training sessions or competition. If an Olympic runner can quickly recover from an individual heat in time for the finals, this would demonstrate an aspect of superior athletic performance.
What Influences Athletic Performance?
As you know by now, athletic performance isn't a singular definition or measurement but a sum of factors that influence physical performance. Let's look at the most important factors that influence athletic performance in greater detail.
Your body relies on energy derived from food to properly fuel for competition. Whether you're strength training or swinging a bat, the conversion of calories into energy is essential. Even though professional athletes rely on stricter diets and meal plans, you too can benefit from changes in your nutrition without taking extreme measures.
Consider eating foods that are rich in healthy fats, proteins, and carbohydrates. Though we often assume our body wants energy gels and simple sugars to fuel high-intensity workouts, it's actually a mixture of natural foods, fruits, and veggies that influence athletic performance.
For instance, a 2019 study found that endurance athletes who adopt a short-term Mediterranean diet will see improvements in exercise performance — even in as few as four days. Keep in mind, the Mediterranean diet embraces fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, as well as heart-healthy fats like olive oil, nuts, and seeds. It’s important to embrace a well-rounded diet that incorporates various foods.
Your metabolism is, in essence, how your body uses energy. It's a reflection of your metabolic health that describes what happens when you consume food and drink. Some individuals experience a slower metabolism that causes energy to be stored away, which can ultimately lead to weight gain, while others have a faster metabolism that readily uses energy all the time.
Tied directly to your metabolism is the process by which your body regulates blood sugar. In a healthy athlete, the body releases a hormone known as insulin that enters the bloodstream and absorbs sugar from the blood for fuel. But for those with poor blood sugar management or insulin resistance, the body can’t regulate sugar to remove it from the blood, which can lead to diabetes or disease if left untreated. For this reason, it’s important that you eat well and maintain various forms of athletic training to ensure your body is not only fueled properly but using its fuel to power performance.
An aspect of performance we often overlook is hydration. This simple act should be a top priority whether you’re on the field competing under the sun or working alongside a personal trainer in the gym.
No matter how you exercise, your body will lose fluids through sweat. That’s because your muscles produce excess heat that increases your core temperature, and sweating attempts to provide short-term relief by cooling you down. Believe it or not, your body loses up to 3-4 liters of fluid through sweat every hour, which is why water should be always within arm’s reach.
If you don’t properly replenish your fluids, dehydration can reduce muscle strength, cause injury, or even lead to heat stroke if left untreated. Hydration should take place before, during, and after your workout. According to the American Council on Exercise (ACE), you should drink 8 ounces 20-30 minutes prior to your workout. Then, during your workout, ACE recommends 7-10 ounces every 10-20 minutes. Finally, be sure to drink 8 ounces about 30 minutes after your workout is complete.
Types of Training
Different forms of training will influence your athletic performance. For instance, runners adopt aerobic training to improve endurance, while weightlifters adopt strength training regimens to improve overall strength. Let’s take a closer look at the different forms of training that influence sports performance.
1. Aerobic training: This form of training targets the body’s aerobic energy system and the cardiovascular system to improve endurance. Put simply, “the aerobic energy system “refers to the combustion of carbohydrates and fats in the presence of oxygen,” according to an article in “Sports Medicine.” Aerobic training forces the cardiovascular system to work harder by delivering more oxygen to muscles while improving the removal of waste products like lactic acid.
2. Anaerobic training: The opposite of aerobic training is anaerobic training. This form of exercise is designed to improve power, speed, and strength during short-term activities for individuals like sprinters that use a lot of energy all at once. The oxygen demand during high-energy bursts of activity is more than your body can provide, which forces your body to take fuel directly from muscles through a process known as glycolysis. For this reason, anaerobic training teaches your body to work harder over shorter periods, which improves athletic performance.
3. Strength training: Common among lifters and those performing high-intensity activities, strength training improves, well, strength. Essentially, it puts a lot of stress on your muscles all at once, resulting in microscopic muscular tears that heal during recovery to increase the size and strength of your muscles.
4. Skills training: While the three exercises above focus on broader forms of training, skills training emphasizes the specific movements of a given sport. For instance, a basketball player might use skills training to improve their jump shot, while a runner might do so to improve their mile time. Skills training is highly individualized and based not only on the specific sport but the person as well.
5. Flexibility training: Whether you’re taking yoga classes or stretching before bed, flexibility training aims to increase a joint’s range of motion (ROM). Two different forms of ROM exercises (active ROM versus passive ROM) will improve different aspects of joint health to improve flexibility and decrease the likelihood of injury during competition.
While different types of training seek to improve different aspects of athletic performance, the best training programs will incorporate a blend of these five forms of training.
Not unlike hydration, recovery is another essential aspect of athletic performance that we often overlook. Recovery not only alleviates unwanted aches and pains, but it also helps prevent injury by allowing your muscles to heal. Healing takes place on a cellular level as your muscles repair themselves (remember those microscopic tears?), and it replenishes depleted energy stores in preparation for your next workout.
The easiest way to promote recovery is by resting major muscle groups for a day or two after activity, but other ways to improve recovery include physical therapy, stretching, and using a variety of recovery tools, such as foam rollers or handheld percussive massagers.
Maximizing your athletic performance
Athletic performance is a concept that describes any effort you make to reach and maintain a specific competitive goal. It’s influenced not only by your environment, but also by the habits you choose to adopt that will improve your performance, from nutrition to recovery.
If you’re interested in identifying ways to improve your athletic performance, consider joining Vital. There you’ll establish a healthy diet that’s built for your body, understand more about your metabolism, and adopt different habits that seek to improve your athletic performance from concept to competition.