We’ve talked about the importance of the proper balance and types of carbohydrates, protein and fats in the diet, especially for those who are exercising regularly or training for an athletic event. Now I just want to touch on a few other important components to an athlete’s health, and how proper nutrition can keep their performance at an optimal level.
Bone remodeling is when mature bone tissue is removed from the skeleton and new bone is formed, and it is constantly occurring inside of our bodies. It is especially active after a bone injury but also helps keep bones strong during daily activities. Bone remodeling is necessary for proper bone growth and health. Calcium bioavailability, hormonal status, and weight-bearing exercise are all involved in the regulation of bone remodeling. Walking, running, yoga, pilates, tai chi and weight training are all activities that help increase bone density. For people who exercise, adequate nutrients from whole food sources are required for optimal bone density. Some of the most important nutrients for bone health include calcium, magnesium, phosphorous, and vitamin D.
High Activity Levels & Free Radicals
High activity levels do create more free radicals inside our bodies. Free radicals are ions that move freely around cells and damage cell membranes, enzymes and protein structures. We accumulate these when we exercise because there is not enough oxygen to keep the ions stable. The best way to counter the effects of free radical buildup is to consume many foods rich in antioxidants. Antioxidants both deactivate free radicals and repair the cells they have damaged. Antioxidants are found in foods high in vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin A, selenium and zinc. These foods include almonds, broccoli, spinach, kiwi, berries, carrots, sweet potatoes, mango, tuna, oatmeal and cashews.
Exercising in dry climates, cold weather or high altitudes increases water loss because more fluid is used to moisten the lungs as air comes in. Living and exercising in warmer climates increases water loss through sweat. Dehydration can cause defects in performance, increased heart rate during exercise, hot or dry skin, a fast and weak pulse, disorientation, dizziness, and nausea. Sports drinks, if consumed, should be used in addition to (not in place of) water.
Sidenote on sports drinks: They are 30 times more erosive to your teeth than water, and are either full of real sugar or, even worse, artificial sugars. Many also contain artificial flavors or colors that are not supportive of health. Some healthy alternatives include filtered water with fresh lemon; herbal teas served cold on ice; electrolyte water; and coconut water.
Food Before & After Exercise
A high-carb breakfast is very important for athletes. The carbs will increase blood sugar for morning workouts, or allow for full glycogen stores if you’re doing an afternoon workout. For optimal comfort and performance, time morning meals so that food is out of the stomach by the time you are ready to exercise. Maximize recovery after training workouts with nutrient-dense balanced meals.
Fiber is another very important component to an athlete’s health. Fiber is one part of foods that is almost always taken out during processing – yet another argument for reducing processed foods in your diet! Since processed foods are so low in fiber, many Americans do not get enough fiber on a daily basis. Fiber attracts water into our intestines and then initiates the contraction of intestinal muscles, which helps maintain bowel regularity. It also lowers cholesterol by increasing the cholesterol utilization in our blood to dispose of bile acids. Many athletes will experience cramping during workouts. With a high-fiber diet, they can eliminate waste more efficiently and decrease digestive discomfort. Fresh fruits and vegetables are great sources of fiber, as well as whole grains, flax, beans and lentils.