The importance of nutrition & exercising
At Goodlife we’re all about helping you to live your best life. But what do you need to achieve that? We believe there are four essential elements that should be incorporated into our everyday routines to ensure we really are living the best life we can:
- Fun, or me time
- And, supporting all three, good, healthy food
We’ve asked nutritionist, Sarah Ann Macklin to take us through the importance of good nutrition when exercising, to both maximise its benefits, and aid recovery afterwards, especially if you’re following a vegan, or vegetarian diet.
Here are her top tips:
Think about the types of food you are consuming
Nutrition plays a key role in our performance and recovery. I am sure you have found many times that some sessions didn’t go so well as others. One reason for this could be your diet. Making sure you are sustaining a healthy diet to support your energy demands and replenishing your vitamins and minerals will play a key part in how you train, and how you feel.
You can become nutrient deficient if you are consuming too many ultra-processed foods which aren’t replenishing your protein, vitamins, and minerals and therefore your performance will suffer because you will feel fatigued and weak.
If you are undernourished by not eating enough food to meet your energy demands, you could experience a compromised immune system, muscle breakdown, feeling emotional, brain fog, increased stress, poor sleep, and women are likely to stop getting their periods. Your diet and the nutrients you choose to fuel yourself with are, therefore, very important.
The four key objectives when exercising:
- Ensuring that you are consuming enough calories to offset your energy demands
- Consuming enough good quality protein sources to repair muscle and maintain muscle mass post exercise
- Consuming unrefined carbohydrates post exercise to meet lost glucose demands
The importance of protein – is it complete?
Research has shown 20-30grams of protein before a resistance workout can help stimulate protein muscle synesis (MPS) which is a fancy way of saying ‘repair the muscle’. This can look like 100grams of salmon, 100grams of fillet steak or 130grams of tofu. If in doubt as to what this much will look like (as it can sound overwhelming), I always advise making a fist, which equates roughly to 20-30 grams of protein.
Many people argue whether protein should be consumed before or after you exercise. For someone who isn’t an elite athlete, ideally protein intake should be evenly distributed 3-4 hours across the day. This is because our bodies can only absorb a certain amount of protein in one sitting, which is around 25-30grams. Spreading protein throughout the day allows your muscles to maximise the absorption of the amino acids.
If you are plant based, do be aware of your protein intake. Animal sources are known as complete proteins, meaning they contain all the essential amino acids that your body cannot make and, you must include within your diet. Plant proteins are often but not always, incomplete sources for proteins. That means if you follow a plant-based diet, you need to be more aware of your protein sources at mealtimes, which will combine different protein sources to make a complete protein source. An example would be, combining rice and beans together to deliver the nine essential amino acids. There are a few exceptions to this, soya and quinoa on their own do make a complete protein.
Opting for a plant-based protein powder is a good alternative to ensure you are gaining enough protein. Hemp protein is a good choice as it contains all nine essential amino acids. Do look out for added sugars and caffeine in these products!
Don’t fear Carbohydrates
We might worry eating carbs will result in weight gain or make us feel sluggish. However, carbohydrate sources are important for our energy levels and if we want to optimise our performance and recovery, they play a vital role.
There are two types of carbohydrates, simple and complex. When you consume these, it will affect how you perform and recover. If you are eating a main meal 3-4 hours before a workout, opt for complex carbohydrates which are slow releasing and will maintain a steady blood sugar release.
These tend to be wholegrains, legumes and oats. Consuming them 3-4 hours before your workout will reduce digestive discomfort.
Simple carbohydrates, such as fruit and milk, are best consumed 1 hour-30 minutes before a workout, because they deliver a quick release of blood sugar, giving us instant energy. Timing on eating these is important. If you consume simple carbohydrates too far ahead of your workout, your blood sugar may crash leaving you with less energy. Timing, therefore, is critical.
Keeping hydrated is key
Keeping hydrated throughout your daily regime is important as well as before, during and after exercise; many of us are aware that when we become dehydrated this impacts our energy levels and we become tired. This is because your blood pressure drops, reducing the amount of oxygen and blood your brain receives causing tiredness. When we exercise, we lose fluids through sweat, and we need to make sure we replenish them. A great point of reference is looking at your urine; if your urine is a dark yellow colour, you need to increase your water intake.
A mineral to take into consideration when increasing your exercise is magnesium. Magnesium is an important mineral, involved in over 600 reactions in your body, which includes helping move blood sugar into your muscle and the disposal of lactate, which can build up during exercise and causes fatigue. Magnesium also plays a key role in our stress response and sleep. During exercise, it has been found that you may need 10-20% more magnesium than when resting (1). Including magnesium rich foods in your daily diet such as, leafy greens, seeds and nuts and bananas is important.
If you’re on a specific diet which may compromise the types of foods you consume, then it is important to seek professional guidance from a nutritionist or dietician.
Key areas for those following a plant-based diet
You absolutely can train well on a plant-based diet – just look at Novak Djokovic, but it is important to be aware of areas which need more focus. I explained the importance of combining your protein above to meet your overall protein needs. Further to this, people leading a plant-based diet need to be aware of their iron, iodine, omega 3 fatty acid and calcium intakes.
When training, iron plays an important role in supporting the function of proteins and enzymes for maintaining physical and cognitive performance. Regular workouts can deplete your stores of iron, which leads to fatigue. Placing an emphasis on plant-based foods such as wholegrains and legumes which are good sources of iron is fine, however the risk of iron deficiency is greater due to the low uptake of iron from plant-based foods. In contrast, iron from animal sources is more bioavailable. Females who follow a plant-based diet are especially at risk of iron-deficiency due to their menstrual cycle and generally a lower intake of total energy from food. Top tip here; add vitamin C to your plant-based foods which can increase the uptake of iron into your bloodstream. This could be lemon juice squeezed onto your greens or a small orange juice alongside a meal.
Other areas to consider which you may fall short on include gaining enough iodine, as dairy products, fish and shellfish are our main source of iodine through our diet. The UK government recommendations for iodine intake is 150 micrograms/day for females and males aged 15 and upwards. If you are vegan, suffer with a lactose intolerance or a milk or fish allergy it is recommended by the British Dietetic Association you take a 150 microgram/day supplement. Do consult a dietician or nutritionist if you are unsure.
Essential long chain omega 3 fatty acids
These are essential because we need to consume these in our diet. We gain these essential FA from fatty fish such as salmon, herring, mackerel, sardines, trout, anchovies, and kippers. They are important for many reasons including our cognition, learning and eye health but when it comes to exercise, they exhibit anti-inflammatory compounds. Some studies have shown reduced muscle soreness, but the research is still non-conclusive. However, essential omega 3 Fatty Acid does play a key role in our overall health and if you eat a plant-based diet, you should consider taking an algae supplement.
Lastly, B12 is only in animal protein so if you are not consuming any animal products at all it is important that you take a supplement. B12 plays a key role in our brain and nerve cells – so your whole body will thank you!
Head over to our recipes to see Sarah Ann’s two fabulous dishes to support your workouts
References. 1. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17172008/