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Eating for Exercise

Fitness and nutrition go hand in hand. You really can't get the best out of one without the other.

“Knowing when and what to eat can make a difference in your workouts,” argues the Mayo Clinic, a highly reputed research institute in the United States.

Having a generally healthy diet can serve you well up to a certain level of training. But if you have particular fitness or sporting goals such as changing your body composition, increasing your performance and regularity at the gym, or taking part in an event such as a long distance run or cycling competition, then you need to adjust what you eat to match your training.

In other words, as you up your physical activity you also need to up your nutritional game. Think of food as your inner equipment. It’s an investment in a better outcome.

There are three main areas that you will need to understand and focus on:

Energy production
Preventing injury and illness
Promoting muscle repair and recovery

1. Energy production

Energy is what powers you through your workouts. It is provided through the combination of the macronutrients that you consume and the oxygen that you breathe.
 
Energy is produced most easily from carbohydrates, the most important fuel for your muscles, brain and central nervous system. These are found in all grains (barley, buckwheat, millet, oats, quinoa, rice, rye) as well as in fruit and vegetables.
 
It is vital to include adequate amounts of carbohydrates in your diet if your energy requirements increase due to exercise, especially from long cardio sessions like a 10K race or marathon.
 
That’s because “the more active you are - the more carbohydrates your body needs,” says the British Nutrition Foundation. “The body can store carbohydrate in the muscles and liver, but these stores are small so it is important to keep them topped up. If you get tired during physical activity this might be because your carbohydrate stores are low.”
 
Energy can also be efficiently provided by fats, particularly medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs), which are fatty acids most abundantly found in coconuts and coconut oil.
 
2.Preventing injury and illness

Regular exercise is beneficial to our general health, but intense training can have some negative effects as it can cause oxidative stress, the imbalance between the production of free radicals and the body’s antioxidant defenses.
 
More free radicals are produced in intense training than with moderate exercise. Therefore, when these overwhelm your antioxidant defenses, they damage your cells, leading to oxidative stress. If this side effect of physical exercise is not managed properly via nutrition, it can be damaging to your health.
 
Studies show that in the short-term an oxidative stress state can lead to muscle fatigue but it may also be involved in the aging process and ailments such as cancer and Parkinson’s disease.
 
Free radicals are very reactive and in too high numbers need to be neutralised by the antioxidants that we eat and create internally from nutritional building blocks.
 
Glutathione, which is produced naturally by the liver, is the “mother of all antioxidants” and most important molecule to remain healthy and prevent disease.
 
Non-cow dairy, hemp and avocados are all good sources of glutathione's base nutrients, a combination of three building blocks of protein.
 
Improving your production of glutathione via foods that support liver function such as green tea and turmeric is also important.
 
We also need plenty of other antioxidants. Eating your rainbow of vegetables and fruit is key. Aim for eight to 10 portions per day.

3.Promoting muscle repair and recovery

You body actually gets “fit” while you rest!
 
The more efficiently you body recovers from the damage that exercise has done to the muscles, the fitter and stronger you become, thereby enabling you to increase your endurance and performance for the next workout.
 
Getting enough protein into your diet is key. It is recommended that you have it with every meal to ensure muscle growth and repair. But it doesn't have to be heavy or animal-based. Beans, peas and pulses, tofu, nuts and seeds, spirulina, and brown rice protein are all good vegetarian sources.
 
Equally, you need calcium for muscles to contract and particularly magnesium for your muscles to relax. The best sources of magnesium are blanched almonds or hemp protein.
 
If you want to learn more about #eatingforexercise check out my ebook here. 
 
By Libby Limon, nutritional therapist

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