When people think about the term ‘Sports Nutrition’, they often think of sports drinks and whey protein powder. Supplements are an important element of Sports Nutrition, especially at the elite level where a percentage change in a given aspect of performance can be the difference between a win and a loss. It is, however, important not to lose focus of the fundamentals of healthy nutrition. Healthy nutrition forms the foundation of wellbeing. A general sense of wellbeing will in-turn help increase energy levels, improving performance and recovery. Healthy nutrition is also vitally important in order to minimise the reduction in immune functioning that can occur when training hard, or for long sessions – something referred to as ‘exercise induced immunosuppression’. A bout of illness can set an athlete back for months, so it’s important to keep healthy whenever possible by manipulating training load and intensity, and by eating the correct foods at the right times.
Nutrition in general can be somewhat confusing. This is due to the huge amount of overwhelming information available on related topics, and the conflicting opinions (which are often very assertive) of nutritionists and dieticians from different clinical and holistic backgrounds.
In my opinion, here are some things to be mindful of when it comes to a good foundation of healthy eating.
It is now thought that inflammation is a major contributing factor relating to many diseases such as heart disease and cancer. To minimise inflammation, the first thing to do is to increase your consumption of omega 3, specifically EPA – which is found in high amounts in fish oils, but not ‘plant’ sources of omega 3 like flax seed. Increase omega 3 and limit your intake of omega 6 and sugar. Additionally, try to consume natural anti-inflammatory foods such as turmeric, ginger and dark leafy greens. I would also recommend reading up on frying foods, and which oils to use. There are some nutritionists who believe oils like sunflower oil turn rancid when frying, and only fats solid at room temperature, like coconut oil, should be used.
Unless it’s before, during or after training, try and consume medium and low glycaemic carbohydrates only, such as buckwheat and brown rice.
Nutritionally Dense Foods
Try and eat nutritionally dense foods, full of micronutrients. When you eat these types of foods, your body stops craving different foods in the search for a nutrient that it is lacking. Eat plenty of kale, spinach, garlic, mulberries, carrots etc. and avoid nutritionally-sparse foods like sweets.
Fermented foods have been creating a buzz online lately, touted as a treatment for all sorts of problems, such as bloatedness and anxiety. They are said to enhance immune function, which, as we’ve already discussed, is vital for any serious athlete.
Fermented foods include kefir, sauerkraut, and some types of yogurt.
Finally, if you feel sluggish, or that your recovery is poor, consider looking into food intolerance testing. My life literally changed after giving up dairy 10 years ago; just make sure you are able to replace the important nutrients that will be lacking if you exclude an entire food group from your diet.
Looking at specific nutrition for runners and endurance athletes of all types – hydration, electrolytes and carbohydrate consumption are all key.
One important point that I would like to emphasise, is never try something new, or adopt any kind of new nutritional routine before a race. Make sure you pilot any new foods, drinks or strategies during practice first.
Before you train or compete in a race, look to consume around half a litre of water about 2 hours beforehand. If possible, sip on water throughout your run or race. You can take on board about 150ml every 15 to 20 minutes. Ideally any drink consumed during a race will contain glucose (or maltodextrin) and sodium. This allows more water to be taken into the ‘body-proper’ by ‘active transport’. If you did A-Level Biology, think about it like osmosis.
Too much water can cause a condition known as – hyponatremia. This is potentially very dangerous and is caused by diluting the body’s electrolytes too much. Commercial sports drinks should contain both a glucose source, and electrolytes. Alternatively you can make your own, add a pinch of salt and 10-20g of maltodextrin powder for every 300ml of water. Ideally the salt added would be pink Himalayan salt, as this contains a range of electrolytes. Again, don’t try this salt for the first time before a race, it has been known to cause stomach cramps in rare cases – usually in people who have never consumed it before.
After training, consume high glycaemic carbohydrates to replace the fluids you have lost. If you weigh yourself before and after, you should drink 150% of what you have lost in bodyweight. So if you lose 1kg, drink 1.5 litres of water, spaced over a couple of hours. Insulin levels are generally elevated for up to 2 hours after exercise, so this is an ideal time to consume carbohydrate to replace the muscle and liver glycogen (carbohydrate stores) that have been called upon during the run. Consuming protein with carbohydrates can enhance this carbohydrate uptake further, and optimise recovery.
If running is part of an overall fitness or conditioning regime, and speed and strength are important in terms of sports performance (if you are a rugby player for example), then I would recommend researching the benefits of consuming Branch Chain Amino Acids (BCAAS) before, during and after training. HMB is another supplement that is touted as highly effective when it comes to preserving hard-earnt muscle and strength when training for fitness.
Guest post by Drew Griffiths