I firmly believe that food and fitness go hand in hand. Get on top of nutrition and the rest will fall into place. Think of your body as a car, food as fuel. It’s logic: you have to fill the engine with the best fuel in order for it to perform at its optimum. Food should nourish the body, not destroy it. I’m incredibly nutrition conscious and since taking on my Strava 100km Running Challenge (see previous post) I’ve been especially eager to learn how feeding my body with the right foods can aid performance.
The first lesson I’ve learnt centres around protein. However, diving into the intimidating world of protein powders and post-workout shakes is pretty daunting. I feel there’s a certain stigma surrounding protein, labelling it as something solely meant for bodybuilders and elite athletes. Something to fear. With a bit of research as well as applying my PE and biology studies, I now have a broader picture of the role of protein when training. I’m no expert but it’s actually pretty basic science knowledge once you break it down.
Think of protein as the building blocks of your body. Protein plays an essential role in repair, growth and maintenance of body tissues. How? When inside the body, protein is digested into amino acids, which body tissues use to rebuild themselves after exercise (won’t delve into too much unnecessary detail here, the key part to note is amino acids as they’re fundamental for rebuiliding tissue).
You’ve probably all heard of the dreaded DOMS – Delayed Onset of Muscle Soreness – which is caused by tiny tears in the muscle fibres, leading to swelling and the inevitable pain of tackling stairs after ‘leg day’ (hands up who’s been there). Protein enhances this crucial rebuilding stage, meaning the muscles heal faster and stronger. By upping your protein intake, you can enjoy shorter recovery periods and stronger muscles which massively help your training and performance. Protein all the way peeps.
Hold on a minute, what about carbs? Pre-marathon pasta parties weren’t invented just for fun (although they do sound pretty incredible if I’m honest). Carbohydrates are the body’s preferred form of energy; simple to break down and dish out to body cells. I couldn’t write a post on sports-based nutrition and neglect this famous food group.
Under the umbrella term carbs there are two main types: simple and complex. When you think simple, think fast release carbs, think sugary. These are like the ‘Golden Boosts’ in Mario Kart. As for complex, these are slow release carbs and the typical beige store-cupboard staples (we’re talking wholemeal pasta, oats, rice, cereal, flour). Consumption pre-workout as fuel – hence the champions’ bowl of porridge for breakfast – and post-workout to restore energy levels. Something my brother always does when returning from a bike ride is devour a gargantuan bowl of rice, claiming “It’s what the pros do” …aspiring Tour de France rider or what?!
In addition to my research for this post, I had an interesting discussion over on Instagram with Ellen from @TeenRunner. She, too, has joined the protein bandwagon. The general gist of what she was saying was protein, protein, protein. At every meal. If it’s not meat, two large eggs are equivalent to a chicken breast. Oily fish is so important too. Tuna and salmon are semi-oily, but we should be including fish such as mackerel and sardines twice a week. Not a mackerel or sardines fan? Then try tuna and salmon three times a week to help keep omega 3 levels up.
I sat down to write this post a little unaware of just how complex sports nutrition is. Still baffled? How about a summary:
- Pre-workout should be focusing on fuelling your body, so choose carbs. Good sources include rice, pasta, bread, oats (think beige).
- During a workout if you’re feeling in need of a little pick me up, reach for fast release energy sources in the form of ‘sugar’. I’m talking dried fruit, bananas, energy balls (if an acceptable time to eat sweets exists, it’s here people)
- Post-workout and your focus should shift onto restoring energy with some carbs while also prompting muscle recovery with protein. A spoonful of nut butter is my preferred option, although you could also go down the route of rice paired with tinned mackerel as my brother likes to. Your choice.
With all of this, hydration is of course crucial too. Sip-it up, little and often to replace fluids lost through sweat and to hydrate your body. I could now go off on a tangent about the importance of hydration, though that’s probably best saved for another blog post. So I’ll leave it there – drink up people!