Sports nutrition is really sophisticated these days. We’re talking fine-tuning of diets to improve athletic performance at a cellular level, helping body tissues recover more quickly, perform more efficiently and endure robustly.
Then there are those of us who do… you know, maybe five (that means three) hours in the gym per week. The ‘seriously trying to get fit’, but perhaps not quite sure what we should be doing with our diets.
Then there are the ‘just starting out-ers’, who have little idea how to eat or supplement for exercise and activity. For these people, reading about the basics is a great step in the right direction, so we’ll get you on your way right now.
The Eatwell Guide applies
This is the pictoral plate diagram outlining what the National Guidelines are for food groups and how much should be eaten in the diet.
By making sure that you have a wide and varied diet will help you stay nutritionally sound. This is important to help fuel you throughout your exercise, to help in the prevention of injury (by providing the nutrients needed to support your muscles and joints), helping with recovery and topping up nutrient stores.
Carbs. The energy and B vitamin givers.
This food group not only provides energy needed for any activity (needed for any body reaction, in fact), but many carbohydrate sources are rich in B vitamins, which are needed for the release of energy from the foods that we eat. The body can store carbohydrates in the muscles (glycogen), but these stores are limited – so those doing intense exercise might need to look at their energy requirements before and during training to make sure performance doesn’t dip off. Of course, it’s important to replenish muscle glycogen stores, which means a good supply of carbs routinely in your diet. To find out the amount of carbohydrate that is appropriate for your activity, why not contact a sports nutritionist or another nutritional practitioner with experience of sports nutrition.
So how much?
Your needs are going to be different to others, but as a rough guide, for light exercise 3-5g carbohydrate per kg body weight per day, for moderate exercise (1 hour/day) 5-7g carbohydrate per kg body weight, for high intensity exercise of 1hour plus high intensity exercise, 6-10g carbohydrate per kg body weight per day.
Protein. More than just muscle
Protein can increase the stores of glycogen in the muscles, and are vital for so many body tissues, including the muscles and heart, as well as hormone production. When you’re looking into sports nutrition, protein is often the first place that people start as there’s a long heritage of protein products being used for sports performance and muscles health. This is why lean proteins such as chicken and fish are so popular (low in saturated fats, which aren’t good for your heart). But meat isn’t needed. There are many examples of elite Vegan athletes too, so it’s not essential to use animal-source proteins at all, with the right combinations of plant-based proteins (and you can buy vegan protein powders too).
You might speak with a nutritional practitioner about when you should take protein to help support recovery and repair, and it’s not unusual for people to take protein after exercise.
So how much?
The current recommendation is 0.75g per kg body weight per day for adults. If you’re doing strength and endurance training, then you might be recommended 2g per kg body weight per day.
This is vital for the body, in balanced amounts. If you’re eating lots of processed foods, you might have an excess of omega 6 polynsaturates, which many nutritional practitioners try to reduce, as they have been linked to unhelpful inflammatory reactions in the body. To counter this, omega 3 essential fatty acids are often included in the diets of people who are physically active, not least because studies show that they help to maintain a healthy heart.