Sports Nutrition – The Healthy Way
Sports Nutrition – The Healthy Way
– When people think of ‘sports nutrition’ they often think of sports drinks and protein powders. Supplementation can be a crucial aspect of sports nutrition and performance enhancement, especially at the elite level where a tiny percentage increase or decrease in performance can mean the difference between first and second place.
Sports nutrition, however, should be based on a solid foundation of healthy nutrition, and a feeling of wellbeing and energy should underpin high level performance, adaptation to training, and exercise recovery.
High levels of inflammation for example, can not only hinder performance and recovery, but can also be extremely bad for health in general. If an individual’s general diet is poor – full of sugar and high levels of processed foods for example, no amount of supplementation is likely to alleviate the systemic inflammation experienced by the body as a result.
Here are some tips on eating for health, which in turn will optimise recovery and performance at the gym:
Avoid Pro-Inflammatory Foods
Pro inflammatory foods are foods which cause inflammation in the body. Inflammation is, of course, a necessary process, required to fight disease, but the average British diet is full of pro-inflammatory foods which will exaggerate this response, to the extent that it can seriously damage health and performance. Avoid sugar and consume very limited amounts of high glycaemic index carbohydrates – such as white bread and white rice. Avoid high amounts of omega 6 which are found in vegetable oils, and avoid trans-fats which are found in some sweets and chocolates.
Consume Anti-Inflammatory Foods
One of the most important factors, in terms of minimising inflammation, is the ‘omega 3 to 6 ratio’ in a person’s diet. It is theorised that humans evolved whilst consuming a diet with equal amounts of omega 6 compared to omega 3 – whereas the average Western diet contains approximately 15 times more omega 6 than omega 3. Eating oily fish and potentially supplementing with fish oil is the best way to ensure that you rectify this ratio so that it is a closer representation of the diet of our Palaeolithic ancestors. Be sure to check the amount of EPA in any fish oil supplements, although DHA is equally important – EPA helps to combat inflammation most effectively and tends to be found in smaller amounts in lower quality supplements. Turmeric and ginger are also highly effective anti-inflammatory foods which offer multiple health benefits.
Consume Nutritionally Dense Foods and Medium or Low GI Carbohydrates
The ideal diet consists of nutritionally dense foods like kale and spinach, with limited processed foods i.e. foods where most of the good nutrients have been removed. If the body is lacking nutrients, not only will a person feel lethargic and slow, but they are likely to remain hungry, as the body continually seeks to consume more in order to meet its nutritional needs.
In a similar vein, it is important to eat medium and low Glycaemic Index (GI) carbohydrates. This is because high GI carbohydrates cause a sudden spike in blood sugar, followed by a sudden drop. If high GI carbohydrates are consumed over a sustained period of time, this can cause all kinds of metabolic and cardiovascular problems such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
High GI carbohydrates also tend to be nutrient deficient, as opposed to lower GI carbohydrates, which tend to contain more micronutrients and fibre, and are therefore better for health and ultimately exercise-performance.
The gut is touted by many scientists and doctors a like as the ‘second brain’. Digestive problems like IBS, bloating, heartburn and reflux are increasingly prevalent in the UK and can make people feel lethargic and generally pretty miserable – not the ideal feeling you want to be experiencing when training or at the gym. Moreover the health of the gut can determine what nutrients are absorbed and what allergens and other undesirable materials are kept out of the ‘body proper’. There are five hundred species and 3 pounds of bacteria in the average gut, and it protects your body from a toxic environment with a layer only one cell thick. With a poor diet, there are many things that can go wrong with this system, causing allergies, inflammation, low energy and brain-fog. In fact, autism has even been linked to gut flora – showing just how important it is to get things right in there.
In order to optimise gut health, consume a high fibre, low sugar diet, with no processed foods where possible. Sugary, processed foods help all the wrong bacteria grow in the gut. Consider adding probiotic food and drink to your daily diet – miso soup and kefir being two classic examples. Many dieticians also advise consuming glutamine first thing in the morning on an empty stomach, to help maintain a healthy gut lining. They may also suggest taking a probiotic supplement.
Finally, certain nutritional strategies put into place before, during, and after exercise can enhance specific performances in the short term. Before exercise, consider using a Branch Chain Amino Acids (BCAA) supplement which has been shown to enhance endurance, and during prolonged bouts of exercise I would always recommend consuming a sports drink of some description. You can make your own with diluted fruit juice and a pinch of salt, but a drink which contains amino acids/protein, carbohydrate and a range of electrolytes is ideal.
Drinking during exercise offsets the negative effects of dehydration. Consuming a drink with carbohydrate and salt can also enhance rehydration via a process known as ‘active transport’ – which basically means that as the glucose and sodium molecules cross into the body-proper from the intestine, they pull water across with them.
Finally, after exercise, it is important to be aware that insulin levels in the body are generally elevated for up to two hours. This is the best time to consume some high GI carbohydrates as they have been shown to replenish muscle carbohydrate stores most effectively. Try and make this carbohydrate nutrient dense if possible, for example, try eating a ripe banana along with any type of recovery drink you may have.