What kinds of foods do you need to have in your diet?
There is no one-size-fits-all solution to eating for performance: the only general rule is to eat a healthy, balanced diet and cut out processed food, such as white bread, white rice and refined sugars.
Making the sacrifices to get in shape, hit the gym and hone your sporting prowess is tough enough but what separates elite athletes from their amateur counterparts is how they look after themselves in the kitchen.
The needs of footballers, rugby players, cyclists or bodybuilders are completely different. Having said that, rugby players and bodybuilders will be looking to maximise bulk and body mass; while footballers and cyclists need to compliment their protein intake with a build-up of carbs nearer to competitions and match days.
Regardless of which sport you play, there are some nutrients that are essential for improving performance – namely, iron, to boost the blood’s oxygen supply: spinach and broccoli, as well as seafood and beans all have high iron content. In order for your body to absorb all of that iron goodness, you’ll also need to have a decent vitamin C intake – so eat your greens, but don’t forget to eat citruses, capsicum peppers and strawberries.
Carbohydrates are essential of course – but the intake for carbs needs to be carefully managed and should be built-into the dietary plan and increase in the days leading up to competing; on the day of competition or match, large should be avoided and replaced with high energy snacks. For example, steel-cut oats, bananas and almonds all offer slow-release carbs that will help your body release energy while you perform.
Proteins and saturated fats are also vital for muscle repair and growth – chicken, fish, eggs and milk. Legumes, such as chickpeas and kidney beans are also rich sources of protein and can add further nutrition to salads. Fats also play a role in helping the body access stored carbohydrates – known as glycogen – and ensuring your diet has enough healthy fats, from avocados, nuts, seeds and lean meat for high-intensity workouts.
Vitamins B6 and B12 are used by the body to convert proteins and sugars into energy, and any competitor taking part in high-intensity exercise should seek out these in lentils, peanuts, tuna and beans.
Calcium is essential for strong bones and skeletal structure – but diary and particularly milk, while high in calcium is also full of electrolytes, which is particularly good for helping the body to recover after intense exercise by rehydrating the body. Calcium intake also helps to ward off cramp – so a must for those who run, cycle or play football. Making the sacrifices to get in shape, hit the gym and hone your sporting prowess is tough enough but what separates elite athletes from their amateur counterparts is how they look after themselves in the kitchen.