Food for sport: Healthy eating for athletes
Prepare your body
To avoid slumps, make sure you store up energy before you exercise. There’s no secret to this: you just need to eat slow-release sugars. These fuel the body and allow it to store up energy reserves for later. Pasta, rice, potatoes and bread should be on the menu. Make sure you leave a gap of at least three hours between eating and exercise. This gives your body chance to top up energy levels used up by digestion, so it won’t let you down on the track.
During exercise, fast-burning sugars are the ones that give you an energy boost once you’ve used up your natural energy reserves. Opt for sugary drinks (as long as they aren’t too concentrated) or cereal bars. Dried fruit makes an excellent high-energy snack that’s absorbed by the body immediately. Raisins and other dried fruits also contain minerals that are useful for muscular activity (notably potassium and magnesium).
Vitamins and minerals for an iron constitution
Iron is an essential mineral that plays a part in the production of haemoglobin in red blood cells and myoglobin in muscles. It’s also involved in numerous enzymatic reactions necessary for cellular respiration. This nutrient is essential for the body’s health and for athletic performance. Meat (especially red) is a good source of iron. It contains a type that’s most easily absorbed by the body. Meat, poultry and fish will all encourage absorption of iron from other types of food as well. Eating these foods is the surest way of avoiding deficiency.
However, eating lots of iron-rich foods isn’t enough by itself. You also need to be getting enough vitamins in your diet (vitamin C, for example), which enable absorption of iron by the body. Don’t forget about fruit and vegetables as well. Other foods and drinks obstruct the absorption of iron, like tea and coffee for example.
To stay fit and avoid accidents and injuries, you need to look after your whole body. Focus on nutrients that keep your muscles and bones healthy.
- Muscles: Meat, fish and eggs are all rich in protein, which helps to maintain muscles. Proteins are also used to produce the bone matrix. Contrary to popular belief, eating red meat won’t make you more likely to get tendinitis.
- Bones: Including dairy in every meal will ensure you get a sufficient supply of calcium and protein, which make bones stronger. Remember that creamy desserts contain less calcium than yoghurt and fermented milk products (sour cream and crème fraiche). Alternate milk and cheese to limit your fat intake, and don’t forget that vitamin D is also essential for your bones. This nutrient can be found in abundance in eggs, butter and liver.
- For your whole body: Fruit and vegetables contain dietary fibre, vitamins and minerals that are essential for maintaining a healthy body. These foods also contain antioxidants, which help to prevent minor injuries. Whether you eat fresh, frozen or dried fruit and veg, make sure you get your five a day!
Finally, drink plenty of water to stay properly hydrated. For further info, check out our pages on sports nutrition to help you make the right choices.