Eating to Train involves choosing the foods and fluids that keep your body fit and healthy while helping you perform at your peak. It doesn’t always come naturally, however, and you may have to read up on certain requirements for certain activities, depending on body mass, fitness levels, health issues, etc. Here are key pointers that will definitely get you started and keep you on track in most instances.
FILLING THE FUEL TANKS
During exercise, the body relies on two main fuel reserves for energy. These are the fat stores (or adipose tissue) and the carbohydrate stores, known as glycogen. Even the leanest athlete has lots of energy stored as fat, however glycogen stores are relatively small.
When glycogen stores become depleted, energy levels drop and performance deteriorates. To ensure that glycogen stores remain filled, it is important to consume a diet high in carbohydrate. After hard training sessions or competition, extra carbohydrate needs to be consumed to help replenish the glycogen used during exercise. Most sports people will need between 5 to 10 grams carbohydrate per kilogram body weight per day, depending on their level of activity.
To meet carbohydrate needs each day, it is important to include plenty of nutrient-rich carbohydrate foods such as breads, grains, cereals, pasta, fruit, vegetables and legumes (beans, peas, lentils etc). These foods provide important B-group vitamins and minerals, as well as dietary fibre. Some athletes will also need to include carbohydrate as sugar, in the form of spreads, sports drinks, low fat desserts and low fat snack bars, to meet their high carbohydrate requirements.
Although the right quantity of carbohydrate needs to be consumed each day, recent research suggests that athletes will also benefit from selecting specific types of high carbohydrate foods. The glycaemic index ranks a particular food based on the immediate effect it has on a person’s blood sugar levels. Our Sports nutritionists or a Sports Dietitian can provide you with more information about the glycaemic index.
Only small amounts of fat are used during exercise, therefore only a small percentage of energy every day should come from fats. A diet too high in fat will result in a carbohydrate intake that is too low. Fat intake can be kept low by choosing low fat dairy foods, lean meats and skinless poultry, low fat sauces and dressings and limiting added fats, fried foods, pastry and chocolate.
Protein is essential for growth and muscle and tissue repair. During endurance activity, a small amount of protein will be used as fuel. Requirements for protein vary depending upon a person’s age, sex and type and level of physical activity. However, most athletes will need between 1.2 – 2.0 grams of protein per kilogram body weight per day.
Most athletes will easily meet protein requirements by including lean red meat, poultry, fish, and/or eggs and low fat dairy foods in the diet each day. Vegetarian athletes and those on very high carbohydrate intakes, or very low kilojoule/calorie intakes, however, may be at risk of inadequate protein intake. Legumes, soy milk, tofu, nuts, grains and cereals can provide adequate protein if eaten regularly and in appropriate quantities.
A person can survive for weeks without food, but you would be lucky to survive more than a few days without water. The human body is 60% water and, if for any reason this percentage drops significantly, there is the danger of dehydration. Signs of dehydration and heat stress include cramping, nausea, vomiting, dizziness and fainting. Heat stroke is a medical emergency and requires urgent attention. During training is the time to establish healthy fluid replacement habits. Remember that thirst is not an accurate indicator of fluid needs. Training is also the time to experiment with different sports drinks. Using a carbohydrate/electrolyte drink may be useful during and between events.
Vitamins & Minerals
Meeting vitamin and mineral requirements is very important for good health and optimal performance. Most athletes should be eating large enough volumes of food to meet energy needs. There are certain groups of athletes, however, who are more at risk of having an inadequate dietary intake of certain vitamins and minerals. These include those on vegetarian diets, those on strict weight reduction regimes, those who smoke heavily and drink alcohol excessively and those who rely on convenience foods.
Athletes who avoid food groups such as dairy products, or who have extremely high carbohydrate intakes, may also risk deficient intakes. If you fall into these categories, aim to improve your diet. A diagnosed nutritional deficiency, such as iron or zinc deficiency, may indicate the need for specific supplementation to increase the levels of these nutrients, in conjunction with increasing the dietary intake.
Low body fat levels and high muscle mass are attributes desired by most sports people. Whilst maintaining a lean physique is important in many sports, its importance should not override other dietary goals. Most athletes will benefit from a formal body composition assessment with a sports dietitian or exercise physiologist, with realistic, individual goals set.
- Eating enough carbohydrates and drinking enough fluids are priorities for most sports people.
- Athletes with diagnosed nutrient deficiencies may require appropriate supplements to bring levels back to normal e.g., vitamins, minerals, amino acids etc.
- Sports people needing a low dose multivitamin/mineral supplement should also be encouraged to improve their diet.
- An antioxidant supplement from your Pharmacy (containing vitamin C and vitamin E) may be of benefit to athletes involved in intensive training.
- If you experience any particular health problems or suffer from a serious injury, please consult your doctor first, before trying an alternative treatment. There are certain aspects of your health and physique that need to be considered and examined by a medical practitioner, before you can proceed with over-the-counter care.
As with most things in this life that can be good for you, it takes a certain amount of mental and physical preparation and care to get it right over time. So don’t be disappointed if everything doesn’t kick into gear immediately, or if you are not sure of certain facts or how to apply them. Our pharmacists and sports nutritionists are always here to help you achieve even more than you think is possible. And we’ve had a lot of training, so you can enjoy the benefits faster. We look forward to discussing more in-store. See you soon!