Nutrition has a tendency to get over complicated but essentially it boils down to one basic principle.
Athletes seeking a nutritious diet can use this basic principle to guide their food journey.
Eat fresh, healthy foods including lean meats, wholegrain carbohydrates, plenty of vegetables and fruit, eating regularly in smaller balanced meals, and limiting processed food and excess fats.
Beyond this basic principle, dietary habits and the food you eat can have a huge impact on your:
- Energy levels – so you aren’t heading into training or spending your day tired, flat and exhausted
- Immune system – so you can prevent or recover quicker from sickness and injury
- Concentration, performance and focus in training sessions
- Body composition – to maintain a balance between muscle mass and body weight
Then it’s a matter of what you do with it; when and how much you eat specific to training and activity. It’s important to find out what works for you to give you good energy, stay healthy and perform well.
All foods will provide energy that can be burnt off – however, it’s what you put in and how your body uses the energy it gets from food that makes a difference to performance.
Different foods provide combinations of different types of energy from macronutrients which have specific roles in the body to help fuel activity, recovery and maintenance.
Getting the right balance of macronutrients in adequate amounts is essential to target all the body’s requirements to have the best effect on the body. A quick rundown of the main macronutrients are:
- Carbohydrates – the preferred fuel for muscle contraction to train and perform, they are essential for your brain to help with fine skills, agility and performance. Your body will constantly be using carbohydrates during training and recovery. Carbohydrates can be found in wholegrain bread, pasta, rice, cereal, potatoes, corn, fruit, milk and yoghurt.
- Proteins – required to help build muscle tissue and stimulate muscle growth for adaptation after training. Dietary sources of protein such as red and white meat, fish, eggs, low fat dairy, tofu and legumes consumed directly post training and regularly as meals and snacks over the day provide sufficient amounts of protein to fuel muscle growth.
- Fats – Fats are required in small amounts to aid delivery of fat soluble vitamins, for hormone production and to act as a layer of insulation for protection. Fats aren’t utilized as effectively during training especially for high intensity, short bursts of activity. Some fats are healthier than others, preferred sources are from nuts, avocado and oily fish.
Consuming a variety of healthy foods throughout the day provides exposure to a range of essential micronutrients and antioxidants required for increased immunity, muscle regeneration and repair of the body around training. The greatest variety of nutrients can be found in the following groups:
- Vegetables / Fruits – including a variety of different types and colours where possible
- Whole grain and high fibre bread and cereal products
- Lean meat, legumes and eggs
- Low fat dairy
- Oily fish/ walnuts and almonds / olive oil / avocado in smaller amounts
Beyond the above there is a world of complexity in sports nutrition but it’s important not to lose sight of these basics.