Proper nutrition is vital for good performance in sport. As you increase your training load in preparation for an event such as a marathon, half marathon etc. your nutrient needs also increase.
Carbohydrates, protein and fats are the macronutrients the body uses to fuel your sport and recovery but there are also micronutrients, better known as vitamins and minerals that the body also requires for good health.
The foods that we chose to eat may affect our health on many levels. Vitamins, minerals and other nutrients may help to build muscle, support the immune system and support energy production.
Commonly used to help support immunity, did you also know that vitamin C may help with connective tissue strength?
Vitamin C may help support blood vessels, ligaments and tendons. It is one of the first nutrients to think of in times of sporting injury.
It is also involved in the production of adrenalin, a hormone you produce during exercise.
Found in more than just oranges, great food sources of vitamin C include: Capsicum, citrus fruits, strawberries, broccoli, tomato, guava, dark green vegetables and kiwi fruits.
Vitamin E is well known for its antioxidant properties, and it may help to protect the body from the stress of oxidative damage.
It is also a nutrient that helps support the immune system and protects our cells. As people increase their exercise load in anticipation for a running event their immune system is put under stress, especially as we exit winter and the cold & flu season- vitamin E rich foods may help to support the body at this time.
Foods naturally high in Vitamin E include: Olive oil, almonds, hazelnuts, spinach, tofu, avocado, sunflower seeds and shellfish.
Vitamin A is another antioxidant who‘s role in the body is to help protect tissues and cells from free radicals. It is involved in supporting the immune system and eye health and is used by the body for growth and development.
The foods that are naturally high in vitamin A include: apricots, barley grass, butter, carrots (beta carotene), egg yolk, and liver from meat sources, fish liver oils such as cod and salmon, green leafy vegetables, mint, spinach, sweet potato and both hard and cream cheese.
The B vitamins
B vitamins are involved in a number of functions in the body.
They are useful to help support energy production during exercise and sport, to support both the adrenal glands and the nervous system and are needed for muscle contraction.
B vitamins are used by our immune system, are involved in the creation of red blood cells and in the metabolism (processing of fats, proteins and carbohydrates) as essential fuels for the body.
Many foods are high in just one B vitamin while other foods contain a great variety. If you are eating a healthy, varied diet, without too many processed foods you are on your way to getting good amounts of your B’s.
So what are foods high in B vitamins? Beans, chicken, turkey, fish, fruits, vegetables, meat, eggs, dairy and nuts are all great choices for a B vitamin boost.
One of the most prevalent amino acid in muscles, glutamine is important in helping to maintain a healthy immune system and helps support the health of the intestines and digestive tract integrity. A large portion of the immune system lays within the digestive tract, so keeping ones digestive system healthy and functioning has become even more important.
One of the best ways to support the digestive system is eating a clean, healthy and varied diet. Good glutamine sources of foods include beans &legumes, cottage cheese, dairy foods, ham, most protein sources, ricotta cheese, rolled oats, and whey products.
Needed for hundreds of enzymatic reactions in the body and this mineral is an absolute work-horse.
In sport it is specifically used for the burning of glucose for fuelling the body and for muscle contraction. It is easily destroyed in food processing and cooking and should be a mineral of focus for athletes as they can easily become deficient with poor food choices and heavy training loads.
Foods high in magnesium include: dark chocolate, kelp, wheat bran, wheat germ, almonds, cashews, pine nuts, figs, molasses, dark green leafy vegetables, whole grains and legumes (beans).
Like magnesium, zinc is a mineral used by the body for 100’s of different functions.
It is involved in muscle health, helps support the immune system and hormone creation, all of which are key functions for athletes.
People leading busy, stressful lives and participating in sport may find they benefit by focusing on high zinc foods such as: Beef, capsicum, egg yolks, ginger, herring, liver, milk, lamb, oysters, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, sea food and whole grains as well as yeast.
A mineral often thought about for women and female athletes but in reality both men and women participating in endurance sport such as marathon running should consider focusing on iron rich foods.
It is involved in the transportation and storage of oxygen in the body and in the creation of energy for sport (and daily life).
It is also involved with general growth, reproductive health and is an important factor for supporting the immune system and healing.
Signs and symptoms of iron deficiency in athletes include: shortness of breath upon exercise, tiredness, lack of ability to train hard, increased incidence of infection. It is important if you have the symptoms while training to see your health care professional and get your iron levels checked (blood test).
Many of the above symptoms can also be from high training volume and leading a busy life, they are not always from iron deficiency.
Iron rich foods for athletes to concentrate on are as follows: Almonds, apricots, avocado, clams, liver and kidney, red meats, lentils, oysters, parsley, pine nuts, sunflower seeds, pumpkins seeds, chicken, wheat germ and black strap molasses. Vegetarians must take extra care with their iron levels and foods.
Eating foods high in vitamin C at the same time as you eat iron rich foods will also enhance the absorption of iron from the diet.
Also known as the “good” gut bacteria, probiotics are an integral part of a healthy diet and lifestyle.
Having good stores of gut bacteria can go a long way to aiding athletes in their search for optimum health.
Probiotics may help support both the health of the digestive tract as well as the body’s immune system.
Most people are aware that yoghurt is a great source of probiotics but there are many other foods that contain these good bacteria such as: Miso soup, sauerkraut, kefir, kombucha, pickles, tempeh and kimchi.
Kira Sutherland BHSc, Grad Dip (Sports Nut, IOC), Adv Dip Nat, Adv Dip Nut. is a Nutritionist & Naturopath that specialises in Sports Nutrition. With over 20 years of clinical experience Kira is passionate about working with athletes of all levels.
She is the previous Head of Nutrition Department at Nature Care College in Sydney and has lectured in Natural Medicine for well over 15 years both within Australia and overseas.
As a health educator, Kira has worked / consulted with an array of clients including: private colleges, health conferences, corporates, sports teams, individual athletes and the media.
In her spare time Kira is undertaking her Masters of Sports Nutrition, competes in Ironman triathlon and practices what she preaches.