Published on April 21, 2016
Sports Nutrition – Getting the Balance
Optimal nutrition has been shown time and time again to improve sporting performance, allowing your body to adapt to training and reducing fatigue on competition day. But how do you know whether you are getting a good diet and what are the signs that you may not be giving your body what it needs to perform at its best?
You Feel Constantly Tired
Do you find yourself lacking in energy? Is it difficult to get out of bed in the morning or is it a mid-afternoon slump that hits you? Athletes, in particular those competing at a high level whilst working fulltime often suffer from fatigue that can impact on training. Although fatigue is caused by a number of different factors, nutrition has a key role to play. Restrictive diets and poor dietary choices can result in inadequate calories, poor fluid intake and the incorrect balance of carbohydrate, fat and protein, which worsen fatigue and reduce training adaption. Athletes are also at risk of sub-optimal levels of certain vitamins and mineral including thiamine, iron and riboflavin, which can worsen fatigue and impair performance.
Many of the athletes I see in clinic tell me that they regularly pick up coughs and colds; although minor, these illnesses affect their ability to train and take a while to shake off. Whilst regular gentle exercise can reduce the chance of illness we know that that training at high intensities can suppress the immune system, making athletes more prone to infections.
Poor nutrition can also increase the risk of infections due to the immune system’s reliance on nutrients such as protein, zinc, glutamine and vitamin C. Optimising your diet to get the right balance of carbohydrate, fat, protein and micronutrients can strengthen your immune system making you less likely to get ill.
You Feel Full and Bloated When Training
To train to the best of your ability it is important that your body is well stocked, your muscle glycogen (carbohydrate) stores should be as full as possible and you should aim to be well hydrated. In practice this can be difficult to achieve without feeling bloated and uncomfortable. However it is possible to maximise your nutrition and still be comfortable during training, this is through focusing on food choices and timings. In clinic I work closely with clients to establish an individual fuelling strategy, focusing foods low in fat and fibre at least two hours prior to exercise.
White toast with honey
Low fibre cereal with milk
A sandwich with a lean protein filling
Pasta or rice salad
Jacket potato with tuna and low fat mayo
Your Diet Relies Heavily on Sports Nutrition Products
Is your breakfast a hasty protein shake on the go or do you find yourself reaching for a protein bar mid-afternoon? Specialist sports nutrition products are everywhere and include products such as isotonic drinks, carbohydrate gels, protein bars and shakes. For some athletes these products are a convenient way to meet their nutritional requirements, but for most they are pricey, unnecessary and used at the wrong times. I often encourage athletes to focus on their food choices first. Planning quick, easy and delicious meals to fit with their schedule and lifestyle can be a much more satisfying way to meet their nutritional requirements. Sports nutrition products can then be recommended at the most appropriate times.
Surveys suggest that up to 85% of athletes may take supplements of some description; these include ‘immune boosting’ vitamins, ‘fat burning’ green tea or ‘muscle building’ branched chain amino acids. Many of them were taking them to make up for a lack of a balanced diet. But is it necessary to take supplements to stay healthy and improve performance or could there be potential problems with this?
As previously mentioned athletes do have increased requirements for some nutrients including iron, magnesium and B vitamins. For the vast majority of athletes these requirements can be met through a healthy balanced diet, avoiding the need to take supplements. I am always to keen to avoid supplements unless there is a clinical or performance need, as large doses can impair recovery post-training, have a negative effect on your health and leave you at risk of positive drugs tests. If you think you may benefit from supplements first seek the advice of a trained health professional who can offer the best advice for you.
This feature is courtesy of our friends Kelly, Louise and Veronica, all registered dietitians from EatandThink.co.uk – EatandThink offer sound nutritional advice for all stages of life with a no-fads philosophy and common sense approach to wellbeing. Find out more and register for their weekly meal plans at EatandThink.co.uk