Diet & Nutrition
It almost goes without saying that a good diet is paramount to great performance. The analogy of putting low grade fuel into a sports car and still expecting it to run well is a good one. If you want to perform at your best, you must take on board the best fuel or, in the case of humans, nutrients.
The building block of the muscles, protein should be taken in sufficient quantities to allow muscle replenishment especially before during and after periods of heavy load (training). Proteins break down slowly. As such, the percentage of proteins you eat should increase during the day such that your last meal of the day should have the highest amount of protein of any meal. Studies suggest that, following exercise, a mixture of carbohydrates and proteins should be taken. If your muscles aren’t fed within 15 minutes after cessation of exercise, you risk the athlete’s enemy catabolosis. In short, the muscles break down and don’t have the building blocks to repair and grow.
Complex carbohydrates break down more slowly than sugary carbohydrates (sugars) and are essential for long-term energy during exercise. Rice, Pasta, bread, couscous and other cereals should form a large part of the athlete’s diet in conjunction with good quality protein.
Sugary carbohydrates (sugars) have a place in the athlete’s diet but should be included with care. Sports drinks these days are composed of various sugars to provide ‘quick energy’ and hold 6-10% carbohydrate. This tends to be a mixture of glucose, sucrose and fructose. Of these, sucrose has to be broken down (by sucrase) into glucose (and fructose) before it can be absorbed into the bloodstream and hence made available for energy. So, glucose which needs no prior conversion and is absorbed directly is the quickest to supply energy. Glucose tablets are widely available in chemists and health shops. An athlete should not rely on sugary carbohydrates and should be aware that the ‘hit’ from taking them is temporary. The insulin in our blood streams quickly converts the sugars and will leave you with a low once they are used up.
Fats are also broken down slowly providing long-term energy release. It is a myth that fat is bad, period. There are such things as good fats. Your body relishes and uses good fats in many processes including brain function. Fats act as a vehicle for many vitamins such as A, D and K and provide insulation for your organs. Polyunsaturated fats including omega-3s found in oily fish work to clear arteries and may play a role in speeding up your metabolism. Monounsaturated fats found in some nuts, olives and avocados have a role in reducing cholesterol too.
Buy any sports drink and the label will reveal a myriad micronutrients. There are several essential to recovery and performance while others need more study to prove efficacy. Vitamin B is an important energy release agent while other vitamins, C in particular, act as antioxidants which help clear up free radical produced during training.
Performance can become severely impaired by inadequate hydration. A 2% loss of body water can result in a 20% loss of performance. As such it is vital to keep ‘topped up’. Drink regularly and in the region of a litre an hour depending on conditions and exercise intensity.
A hypotonic solution is one in which the concentration of electrolytes (essential salts) is below that in cells. Water is hypotonic as are squash drinks. They are recommended for quick hydration but, if you drink too much, this can actually cause a flushing of essential minerals from your system and result in an imbalance. Anecdotal evidence of side-effects such as headaches has been reported as a result of drinking excessive amounts of hypotonic fluid.
‘In balance with your body fluids’ as the old advert used to say. These can be bought or made. They mimic the sugar and mineral content of the fluid in your body containing electrolytes to help optimal take-up. These are believed to be the best type of drinks for helping your body to maintain the correct fluid balance.
A hypertonic drink, as you may have guessed, is a solution containing electrolytes above that in the body’s cells. Fruit juices and specially formulated sports drinks are examples of this. These drinks will act more like meals in your stomach and, although they will contain more energy, they will take longer to break down and not refresh or hydrate as quickly. You can improve take-up by watering these drinks down to your own requirement.