Just as there is no single food that will make you lose weight, likewise, there is no one particular item you can eat that will suddenly make you healthier and fitter. What should he considered from the very start is that your diet is almost like a fingertprint – unique to you. Sure, there are certain rules that should be followed but these are not set in stone. Any advice that you read or hear should be thought of as guidelines only with the final adaptation of a training diet being entirely your decision.
Certainly in recent years it has become increasingly obvious that diet plays a major part in the success of a sports person. Motor racing drivers, cyclists, runners, boxers – almost any physical sport that you can think of has been taken to a new level of intensity. This has come about by the introduction of combined training and dietary regimes, designed to optimise an individual human body for success in a certain sport.
Training is tailored to suit the sport. There is no point in extensive weight training and muscle gain if you intend to run 26 mile marathons. Similarly, a diet as tailored to suit the sport. To customise a diet to suit your specific training needs the best approach is to consider how the body reacts to training and to the food that is provided. This is the common element that can be applied to any sport.
A certain degree of scepticism has crept in during the past few years.
Scientists constantly seem to come up with foods that one day are very good for you and, sometime later, must be avoided at all costs. To answer this there are a few hints that should be followed as a first step to a healthy diet.
Avoid excessive amounts of processed food Avoid excessive amounts of food and drink that are high in fat, sugar or alcohol Try and maintain a dietary balance that covers carbohydrates, protein and fat
Basically, remember the phrase everything in moderation.
Food is fuel for the body.
How is this fuel used in training?
That is dependant upon the type of training that you do. There are two basic types of physical activity, aerobic and anaerobic. We have all heard of aerobic exercise and the term conjures up images of people in brightly coloured leotards, standing together in a large room, working up a sweat by following the moves of the instructor. But aerobic exercise can take many forms, distance running, cycling and swimming for example and can easily be remembered as exercise that may make you breathless. After all, the term aerobic indicates exercise with oxygen.
Anaerobic exercise is not such a common term. This is the sort of physical activity that you repeat until your muscles give up on you. Weight training is the best example although sprinting, jumping and kicking are also considered to be anaerobic. It may leave you breathless but will certainly make the muscles that you have been exercising feel weak.
There are few physical activities that are entirely aerobic or anaerobic. Instead one or other type will predominate.
The body burns fuel to create energy which, in turn, allows you to perform various physically demanding activities. This fuel is called glycogen. The main stores for glycogen are the muscles as this is where fuel is needed. As you exercise, the glycogen stores are depleted. If you are performing aerobic exercise then, once the body has warmed up, it will start using fat deposits for its energy source. Anaerobic exercise will, when the body has warmed up, only use glycogen. Once the stores have been depleted, your muscles will tire and you will have to stop.
What fuel should be used?
For general meals you should consider foods that take time to be absorbed by the body. If a food is absorbed too quickly then, if you are not training, fat may be a by-product. Slow absorption allows the body to process all the incoming food in good time to avoid fat build up. Such foods would include various pulses, certain fruits (apples, dates, peaches) and yoghurt.
If you have just finished training then you can select foods that can be quickly absorbed. This is because the body can refuel at a much faster rate for anything up to two hours after intense physical activity. Such foods could include wholegrain bread, brown rice, muesli, raisins, bananas, sweetcorn, pasta and potatoes. As mentioned previously, avoid eating any one of these foods exclusively. Mix between low and high absorption groups but ensure that the appropriate food type predominates.
It is quite possible that you do not feel hungry after exercise. If this is the case then you may consider eating a power bar or an energy drink. Some of these are better than others. Check the label of contents and apply the food hints given previously.
One last issue. Many people imagine that eating a high protein diet will ensure super athlete status. This is not true. Excess protein could easily end up as fat on your body. What do you need protein for? The body always needs a certain amount of protein to build cells, enzymes and some hormones. But if you participate in a sport that requires strength then you will need some extra protein in order to allow for the growth of new tissue. If you are a body builder then your protein needs will be even greater. Good sources of protein include skimmed milk, cottage cheese, certain pulses and some nuts.
As well as being low in sugar, fat and salt, vegetarian diets are generally high in carbohydrates and fibre. A good supply of catbohydrates is essential for successful training and sports participation. Without sufficient fuel your body will be unable to maintain the energy levels required to succeed.