The basics of sports nutrition (for everybody)
I find sports nutrition is outside of the scope of the work I usually do to help people with ailments and to improve their symptoms with personalized nutrition. Sports nutrition feels slightly more aspirational, focusing more on better performance, higher intensity and taking your body to its limits. These increased bodily demands are not something that I often advocate in my nutrition advice to clients who are sometimes dealing with complex conditions. However, I now realise that sports nutrition is for everyone. Whether it is just a gentle improvement on the pace you run at, the distance you walk or winning the next iron man competition, sports nutrition can benefit us all. So, in this article, I will share my top tips on improving your athletic performance in whatever way you choose!
Hydration may sound basic, but hydration is a fundamental part of optimal performance in sport and every aspect of your life. Human beings can survive three weeks without food, but only three days without water, so this should be your number one priority when it comes to health and performance.
Just because you don't feel thirsty doesn't mean that you don’t require hydration, so the best way to test your water requirements is to weigh yourself pre and post-workout. This water loss should give you an idea of how much water you need per training session.
Also, hydration is not just water alone; you even lose electrolytes during sweating, so you need to refuel these as well. There are plenty of great electrolyte solutions available on the market and there are many brands to choose from, and coconut water is also good to rehydrate after a workout.
Remember, a small amount of water loss can have a significant impact on overall athletic performance.
You may be familiar with the concept that regular moderate exercise may reduce the incidence of illness. However, prolonged bouts of strenuous activity (over 40 minutes) may suppress immune function. The suppression of the immune system is often the result of increased oxidative damage from the production of 'free radicals' which may be harmful to the body. Therefore, a high strength antioxidant is beneficial for those who take part in arduous exercise, to balance the effect on the immune system (particularly important for runners). Eating the rainbow in different colours of fruits and vegetables will provide an abundance of antioxidant benefit. Supplements such as high strength vitamin C, beta-glucans, zinc and quercetin may also be helpful.
If you are hoping to improve your performance, the last thing you need is an injury, so taking steps to protect your body is paramount in sports nutrition.
Protein is vital to building a robust body, given that protein builds and repairs tissues, and creates enzymes, hormones and other body chemicals which are fundamental to most biological reactions in the body. If healing from injury, protein requirements should be between 102 grams to 136 grams per day, vitamin C, collagen and vitamin D also help to heal from an injury and aid injury prevention.
Injury may occur when there is low-grade systemic inflammation in the body, so it is worth including anti-inflammatory foods and activities into your daily routine, such as:
- Eat plenty of good fats such as extra virgin olive oil, fatty fish such as salmon and mackerel and avocado.
- Having some time away from stimulation – either try meditation, explore breathing techniques or learning a musical instrument.
- Ensure you get adequate sleep – this is when the immune system recovers and restores, so it is essential to get good quality sleep and at least eight hours of sleep in total.
If you are seeking to build muscle, it is essential to include some resistance training into your exercise regime. High-quality protein should be incorporated into the diet and eaten at every meal to gain muscle mass. A person's daily protein intake should be at least 2.2 grams per kg of weight to gain muscle mass and improve athletic performance. Here is a list of some good quality high protein foods which you should consider including in your diet:
- eggs (6 grams per large egg)
- almonds (6 grams per handful)
- organic chicken breast (53 grams)
- oats (11 grams per cup)
- broccoli (3 grams per cup)
- lean organic beef (25 grams)
- quinoa (8 grams per cup)
- fish (19 grams)
If you need to supplement with protein powder to keep protein requirements up, I recommend the following brands:
- NuZest Pea Protein Powder.
- Biotics Research – Pea Protein Isolate.
Whey protein is also a good protein source and has other beneficial effects. However, as whey is made from dairy, supplementing with whey may cause more harm than good in those who react to it.
Specific Nutrients – Ergogenic Aids
Specific nutrients referred to as ergogenic aids may enhance performance and give you a mental or physical edge while exercising or competing.
Ergogenic aids include:
- Beetroot juice (or Beet It Stamina Shot)
- Bicarbonate of soda
After training it is advisable to eat within 30 – 60 minutes to sustain muscle mass. Water and electrolytes also need to be replaced after training. If doing a strenuous or long-distance workout, consider using energy gels during exercise. For exercise less than 40 minutes, there is no need to replenish energy while training.
There are various ways to speed up recovery to help with consistent training; some popular ones are as follows:
- Cold baths after training.
- Taking proteolytic enzymes.
- Sleeping for at least eight hours a night.
- Stretching after training.
Even if you exercise for fun or are just looking at ways to feel more energised, by incorporating these simple biohacks into your life, you may see improvements in your overall health and wellbeing. And those of you who are looking to enhance performance for your next big challenge, you may see a significant difference in your performance by making a few adaptations to your lifestyle, diet, and focus.
For further information, make an appointment with a professional nutritionist.