Boost your training potential with our sports nutrition guide. Good nutrition can be used to enhance athletic performance and help with the speed of recovery and the prevention of injury. Sports nutrition is essential for effective improvement in performance, recovery from fatigue after exercise and avoidance of injury. Whether you are training for a marathon or exercising for improved health, to find out how nutrition can help you improve your performance read on.
Maintaining a strong and healthy athletic performance is more than just a matter of training, practice and “keeping in shape.” Your body needs support in the form of the right nutrition, hydration and rest in order to keep performing and responding at peak levels.
Don’t skimp on Carbs
Carbohydrates provide you with fuel and energy needed to power exercise, it is important to replace white carbohydrates for complex carbohydrates. Complex carbohydrates release their energy more slowly, keeping you going for longer, they also provide added fibre and B vitamins which are essential for turning food into energy. Good sources of complex carbs include, brown rice, pasta, whole grain bread and vegetables.
Carbohydrates are stored as glycogen in the muscles and liver, this makes the energy readily available. These stores are small, so a regular intake of carbohydrate is necessary to keep them topped up. Low glycogen stores will result in poor performance and increase your risk of injury.
Aim to eat at least 5 servings of fruit and vegetables per day, to ensure you are getting plenty of complex carbs as well as vitamins and antioxidants. Vitamin deficiencies can impair sport performance and lead to injury.
Protein is essential for muscle growth and repair, when eaten with complex carbohydrates, protein also helps to slow down the rate of digestion which means energy will be slow releasing and will help keep you training for longer. Protein foods such as chicken, fish, lean red meat, eggs (try omega 3 variety) and low-fat dairy foods should be included as part of your meal. Oily fish such as salmon is a fantastic source of protein and essential fats. The omega 3 oils found in oily fish not only provide fuel but can also help prevent and repair tissue damage caused by inflammation.
If you are experiencing any pain, swelling or redness when training this is an indication of inflammation. The inflammatory response is the body’s natural response that occurs immediately following tissue damage.
Some of the most effective natural approaches to keeping inflammation under control are:
- Reduce your intake of refined carbohydrates (white breads, rice and pasta swap for whole grains)
- Increase your intake of omega-3 fatty acids (fish oils and nuts) and reduce intake of omega-6 fatty acids (sunflower oil)
- Increase your intake of brightly colored fruits and veggies (increased content of flavonoids and carotenoids which fight against inflammation)
- Reduce stress (which can set off or exacerbate a chain reaction of over-inflammation)
- Add plenty of ginger and turmeric to foods as they have been shown to suppress inflammation
- Drink plenty of green tea which contains antioxidants to help fight inflammation
- Arnica can be used to soothe muscle aches and reduce swelling and inflammation
- Magnesium oil sprayed directly onto muscles helps soothe muscle soreness & cramps, aids recovery and repair and promotes restful sleep when used at night.
Dehydration is when the water content in your body falls below its normal level. It can have a major effect on your performance. It’s important to start any exercise session well hydrated. Do this by drinking water, herbal teas or diluted fruit juice regularly during the course of the day.
For any exercise that lasts longer than 30 minutes, drink fluid while you’re doing it. The more you sweat, the more you’ll need to drink.
Water is usually enough for low-intensity exercise up to 50 minutes. For higher-intensity exercise lasting more than 50 minutes, or lower-intensity exercise lasting hours, a sports drink or coconut water would be of benefit to replace lost electrolytes. In any race longer than a half-marathon, much of the body’s natural mineral resources will have been sweated out. Of those lost, the most valuable are sodium, potassium, magnesium and calcium, known as electrolytes. Replacing these electrolytes will help regulate muscle contraction and stave off post-race cramps.
NB: The heavier you are and the more you sweat, the more fluid you will need to replace.
It is important to refuel quickly after exercising so that your muscles can then begin their repair process, you will also recover more quickly and feel less tired.
Aim to eat within 30 minutes after training.
After 90 minutes of exercise your glycogen stores will be seriously depleted and will need restocking if you want to keep up the pace.
In order to refuel on the go, your body requires carbohydrates that it can convert quickly into glucose. Try snacking on a bounce protein ball which is full of nuts which contain Omega-3 fats, protein and a nutrient called CoQ10, which helps cells produce energy. Unlike runners downing caffeine-based gels, your energy levels won’t crash when the effects wear off.
For post exercise refuelling try a homemade milkshake which will help replenish lost electrolytes – blend a banana (for potassium), half a glass of milk (calcium) , ¼ tsp salt (sodium) tsp ground almonds (magnesium)
Adding coconut oil to a protein smoothie (greek yogurt and banana) is also a great pre workout snack, coconut oil is metabolised directly into the liver so it helps you to burn fat and gives longer lasting energy .
Food and drink also plays a part in recovering effectively from training. Good recovery is crucial to prevent a midweek slump in energy levels, and to aid muscle growth and repair. It is important to refuel within half an hour after exercising.
Carbohydrates, protein, electrolytes and fluid are the four magic words for fuelling your recovery.
Cherry Juice has been shown to aid recovery as it contains antioxidants which help to reduce inflammation and has been shown to aid muscle recovery, it has also recently been shown to increase melatonin which is needed for restful sleep.
Getting deep quality sleep is by far the most important thing that everyone should be doing. We release a great deal of growth hormone which is involved in muscle tissue turnover, when we are in a deep sleep state. Just make sure that you stop eating a few hours before bedtime so that insulin does not interfere with optimal growth hormone production.