That time of year is yet again upon us. Christmas is traditionally a time of over-indulgence and temptation; with the calories stacking up over the festive period, exercising to shed some of those extra kilos you may have gained has never been so appealing. Why not jump start on those New Year’s resolutions and embrace a healthy you now.
Perhaps you have set yourself some different types of goals over the holiday season: a charity run for fun? Training for your first half marathon? Or maybe you are simply aiming at improving your stamina and performance. No matter what your goal is, nutrition plays a focal role in supporting the training and competition requirements of sport, whether this is for recreational or elite purposes. Good food choices ensure that you have adequate energy to drive performance and aid recovery. There are no strict rules or dietary plan that you must adhere to. However, there are some nutritional strategies and tips that are advisable before, during and after you work out to optimise performance.
Before: Fuel up
Carbohydrates are vital for performance during sport. Muscles rely on carbohydrate as their principal source of fuel. The amount you require depends on your training aspirations and dietary goals. As a general rule of thumb, the more intense the training programme, the higher amount of carbohydrates your diet should comprise. The consequences of carbohydrate-poor diets encompass energy deficits during exercise, early fatigue, loss of concentration and delayed recovery between exercise sessions. Carbohydrate is stored in muscles as glycogen. As the body’s stores of glycogen are limited, topping up the stores each day is key. For your pre-workout meal, combining carbohydrate with protein and fat will provide sustained energy and maximum performance during a training session.
Suitable pre-training meals:
No time for a meal? Then have one of the following 5 – 60 min pre-training:
Timing of a pre-workout meal
The timing of your food before a workout can make a big difference to how you feel and will impact your performance. For most workouts, you should aim to eat 2 – 4 hours before exercising, depending on the size of your meal and what foods are being consumed. Essentially, you need to leave enough time to digest the food but avoiding too long a gap where this energy will be used up by the time you begin exercising. For the best results, listen to your body; you may need to experiment with timing. If there really is no time for a meal then plan a healthy snack up to 30 minutes before training.
After: refuel your tank
The most effective refuelling to kick-start recovery occurs within 0-30 minutes immediately post-exercise; for a rapid recovery, both carbohydrate and protein should feature in your post-exercise snack or meal. The combination of both nutrients promotes faster muscle repair and greater muscle growth, replenishes glycogen stores and reduces post-exercise muscle soreness. If you only focus on high protein intake without an adequate supply of carbohydrate, the protein will be utilised for energy purposes instead of being used to build muscle. Additionally, low carbohydrate intake will lead to low energy levels, making it challenging for you to train and perform at your best. Aim to consume 1g carbohydrate per kg body weight following the exercise. The more intense and longer the training, the higher the carbohydrate needs.
Protein for power
Furthermore, the post-workout meal or snack should also comprise protein. Protein is required for building and repairing muscle and plays an important role in how the body responds to exercise. One of the biggest myths is that consuming large amounts of protein equates to large biceps. Muscle is gained through a combination of resistance training and a diet that contains adequate energy and carbohydrate.
The ideal post-exercise protein dose to trigger maximum muscle protein synthesis (MPS) is 15 – 25g (or about 0.25g per kilogram of body weight). Exceeding this amount will not increase MPS for most people. Eating less than this amount of protein may produce smaller gains. Leucine, a branched chain amino acid and component of protein, is the key trigger that stimulates MPS as well as promoting muscle recovery after exercise. Milk, whey, casein, egg, meat, poultry and fish are rich sources of leucine.
Post-workout snack suggestions:
Some examples of healthful options that deliver carbohydrate and protein in amounts that optimise recovery as well as other nutritional needs encompass:
As muscle recovery continues for several hours − perhaps up to 24 hours − you should continue consuming protein at regular intervals throughout the day. Aim to have around 15 – 25g protein at each meal and also include protein in your snacks.
Maintaining adequate hydration is essential for physical and mental performance. It is paramount to start each exercise session well hydrated, to take on-board appropriate fluids during the workout and restore hydration levels as soon as possible afterwards in order to replace the water and salts lost in sweating, and to optimise the recovery process.For low intensity exercise lasting for a short duration, water is very good for rehydration. Water is affordable and convenient for most recreational exercisers. Sports drinks containing electrolytes are unnecessary unless you are training for over 1 hour and sweating profusely. For moderate to high intensity and endurance sports lasting longer than 1 hour a drink which contains carbohydrate and electrolytes, such as milk or a commercial isotonic sports drink, is generally more effective than water in enhancing performance. These drinks contain carbohydrate to help delay fatigue by providing glucose to the muscles, and electrolytes to replace sodium lost in sweat. It is important to note that some studies show that milk rehydrates you more effectively than isotonic sports drinks.
Many strongly underestimate the importance of correctly refuelling our bodies. Considering your body is your vehicle and food intake is a critical factor in achieving the best results, you have to ensure you keep your engine optimally running when you work out.
Furthermore, the sports world is overflowing with bars, pills, powders and specialised foods that all pledge fitness or performance enhancements. They are particularly popular in the athletic, as well as recreational sporting domain. Recreational exercisers do not require supplements on top of their diet, unless otherwise indicated by a doctor or dietitian. Focusing on achieving a healthy, balanced diet will supply the necessary nutrients and energy for sport and achieving fitness goals.
Food plays an essential role in our life. Research shows that diet is strongly correlated with mood and cognitive function. Hippocrates was the first to suggest the healing power of food; however, it was not until the medieval ages that food was considered a tool to modify temperament and mood, although scientific methods as we know them today were not in use at the time.
Food embodies a powerful source to enhance mental well-being. Many people eat in order to distract themselves from, compensate for or cope with negative affects such as stress, anxiety, frustration, fear, daily hassles, sadness, boredom, depression and fatigue. The foods consumed under these circumstances are sometimes referred to as comfort foods, as they are mostly indulgent in nature; such foods confer immediate satisfaction and psycho-physical benefits.
Research is mounting that food can be used as a tool to modulate mood as it comprises specific nutrients and bioactive factors that exert an important influence on cognitive functioning and mood.
Stress and mental health
Stress-related mental disorders such as mood or anxiety disorders are the most prevalent and burdensome psychiatric disorders. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) almost 350 million people suffer from depression worldwide. As such, the pursuit to identify mood-enhancing food is of extreme value.
Nutrient and bioactive factors
Serotonin, a chemical messenger in the brain, has a direct impact on mood and well-being. It is also commonly known as the ‘happiness hormone’. Serotonin is created from tryptophan, an amino acid present in the diet. Carbohydrates promote the production and availability of serotonin, leading to temporary mood improvements. This suggestion has been used to explain ‘carbohydrate craving’ – eating sweet, comfort foods to boost mood. As such, consuming carbohydrates may boost mood.
The ability to concentrate and focus comes from an adequate supply of energy – from blood glucose – to the brain. Glucose is formed when carbohydrates are broken down in the body. Eating breakfast and regular meals containing some carbohydrate ensures an adequate supply of glucose in your blood. Insufficient blood glucose level, termed hypoglycaemia, can lead to weakness, tiredness and ‘fuzzy mindedness’. This may happen due to a lack of consumption of carbohydrate-containing food. It can also happen with people following very restrictive diets or with erratic eating patterns. However, though glucose ensures good concentration and focus, once your blood glucose reaches the normal range, you cannot further boost your brainpower by increasing glucose levels.
Iron, Selenium, B vitamins
Micronutrients that should be considered as powerful mood enhancers include B vitamins, selenium and iron. Shortfalls in these vitamins and minerals have been shown to affect your mood, leading to tiredness, depression or irritability. As such, it is of paramount importance to consume a nutrient-rich diet, to avoid the negative impacts on energy, mood and brain function.
Folate, a B-vitamin found in beans, citrus and dark green vegetables like spinach, affects neurotransmitters that impact mood. Deficiency can potentially result in depression, so ensure your stores are topped up.
Caffeinated black, green or oolong tea may elicit a more alert state of mind. Researchers believe theanine—an amino acid present in these tea varieties—may work synergistically with caffeine to improve attention and focus.
Oily fish, such as salmon, fresh tuna, sardines and anchovies, will supply omega-3s—a key mood-boosting nutrient and one our bodies do not produce. Omega-3s alter brain chemicals associated with mood—specifically dopamine and serotonin, which are linked with keeping depression at bay.
Caffeine, found in coffee, cola and energy drinks, is often called a ‘drug’ as it acts as a stimulant and can improve the feelings of alertness and counter the effects of fatigue. Beware, as overconsumption of caffeine may cause adverse effects of irritability and headache.
Blueberries are packed with antioxidants and anthocyanins. These nutrients are said to be great stress busters. Antioxidants combat free radicals, which may adversely affect memory.
The combination of omega 3 fatty acids and phytochemicals in walnuts are reported to exert natural antidepressant effects in human. Walnuts also contain other compounds like tryptophan, protein, and folic acid that contribute to enhanced mood.
Chocolate has long been associated with enjoyment and pleasure. Chocolate may interact with a number of neurotransmitter systems including dopamine, serotonin and endorphins that contribute to appetite, reward and mood regulation. Chocolate is rich in antioxidants and it contains amino acid gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) that is said to reduce anxiety.
The interplay between food and mood is multifaceted: there are many ways that foods can affect our mood, just as how we feel has a large influence on what foods we choose. It is possible that the mood enhancing properties of food are due to a cumulative and synergistic action of nutrients. Some of the mood/food effects are due to nutrient content, but many are derived from existing associations of foods with pleasure and reward or deprivation.
Sophie Bruno is a Registered Dietitian living and working in Brussels (Belgium). Read Sophie's foodie blog which will enable you to learn, increase your knowledge & cultivate yourself in the field of nutrition & health directly from Brussels