There are 7 nutrition groups found in the food we eat:
We require all of these to function well and it is important to ensure we consume adequate amounts of each nutrition group for optimum health (and running performance!)
Here, I’m going to go over each nutrition group and give my thoughts on how we should attempt to fulfil our daily requirement.
Most of you here will know protein is essential for staying fit and healthy. It is the most important nutrition group for maintaining and gaining muscle mass. Our very muscles consist largely of protein.
Try and take in at least 1g/kg bodyweight minimum and for optimum performance and recovery aim for 2.2g/kg body weight.
If you eat excess protein and calories altogether then your body will convert it into fat.
However, if you don’t eat enough protein or your muscles could do with more protein then you could be limiting your muscle growth and recovery, so I think there is little harm in consuming large amounts of protein.
WHAT SOURCES OF PROTEIN?
A few sources of protein are meat, fish, nuts, beans, lentils and eggs.
If you can aim to eat grass-fed beef and other grass-fed animal meats. This is because they tend to be higher in nutrients such as vitamin E and vitamin A and can even be more resistant to oxidative damage from cooking.
WHEN TO CONSUME PROTEIN?
Try to consume protein shortly after training to kick start the muscle recovery and protein synthesis process and try to ensure you have a good source of protein with every meal.
Fats are essential for good health and should not be neglected. Most low-fat foods are filled with sugar to provide taste which is lost when fat is removed. Try to consume more unsaturated fats than saturated fats, but remember saturated fats are also necessary.
Fats are used for transporting fat-soluble vitamins around the body have many other functions such as storing energy, insulating us and protecting our vital organs. They start chemical reactions that help control growth, immune function, reproduction and basic metabolism.
In this day and age, the average person tends to be deficient in omega 3 fatty acids which are necessary for optimal cognitive functioning and have even been shown to help fight off various mental illnesses and other diseases. Here are some other benefits of omega 3 fatty acids.
These can be obtained from a variety of fish such as mackerel and salmon. Aim to get at least two good portions of omega 3 each week, the more the better.
If you want a nutrient dense source of fat and protein, I highly recommend eggs.
Eggs tend to receive a bad rap for their cholesterol levels, but the majority of this cholesterol is HDL (high-density lipoprotein) which is good for you. In fact, this stuff is essential for the production of sex hormones (such as testosterone) and cell membranes (for all those trillions of cells in your body).
Everyone knows that the purpose of carbohydrates is to provide energy. For a runner, these are essential for optimum performance as these are the most readily available source of energy to be used in respiration.
The more exercise you do, the more carbohydrates you will require to replenish glycogen stores to be used for more exercise.
You should try to eliminate carbohydrates in processed foods and foods high in sugar if you can as these tend to spike your blood sugar and insulin levels. Since your blood sugar is so high at that moment in time, insulin shuttles the sugar towards your fat cells to be stored as fat since glucose is toxic if it remains in your bloodstream.
When it comes to carb sources go for natural, starchy foods such as:
- Sweet potatoes
These are probably the best slow releasing sources of energy you can consume as they have a low glycemic index, but other than that feel free to have fruit and other carbs with a high glycemic index after exercise to quickly replenish used up glycogen.
Water is essential for maintaining basic metabolism, it’s as simple as that. When put to the limit your body can go weeks without food, but only days without water.
Your body weight is approximately 60% water and is used in all cells to maintain bodily functions.
- Aid digestion
- Prevent dehydration
- Protect your tissues, spinal cord and joints
- Remove body waste
- Body temperature regulation
- Transport of nutrients
- Chemical and metabolic reactions in the body
Aim to get at least 1.5 – 2 litres of water a day and more if you exercise. Don’t underestimate how much water you lose during exercise or the effects of dehydration on performance.
One study shows that losses in 2% bodyweight as water can start to impair performance and losses in 5% can decrease work capacity by 30%.
This is due to:
- Reduction in blood volume
- Decreased skin blood flow
- Increased core temperature
- Decreased sweat rate
- Increased rate of muscle glycogen use
- Decreased heat dissipation
Dehydration causes blood plasma volume (which is 92% water) to fall and when there is less blood flowing through the body to provide oxygen, performance is impaired.
So make sure you drink (no not alcohol!) to keep your body functioning well and hydrate especially after prolonged or intense exercise.
VITAMINS AND MINERALS
Your body requires many micronutrients to function optimally. I’m not going to go over every single micronutrient, but I’ll cover the general importance and purpose of vitamins and minerals in your diet.
The various vitamins and minerals your body requires will:
- Aid recovery
- Strengthen your immune system to protect you from bacteria and viruses
- Help protect you from the damage caused by free radicals released from the oxidative stress caused by running
- Maintain cell membrane structure
- Increase oxygen delivery efficiency
- Reduce risk of injury and illness
- Help maintain a healthy metabolism
- Keep your bones strong and healthy
This is just a sample of what vitamins and minerals do for your body.
You want to consume a wide a range of these micronutrients as possible to keep your body healthy.
To best fulfil a wide range of micronutrient requirements aim to eat a diet rich in vegetables, some fruit, eggs, fish, dairy and meat (organ meats such as heart and liver are extremely nutritionally dense.
Fiber isn’t generally thought of as a food group and there are two main types of fibre:
- Soluble fibre
- Insoluble fibre
The main role of fibre is thought to be to help move our stools through our body.
This type of fibre increases the thickness of the stomach’s contents, slowing down the emptying of the stomach, giving the body more time to absorb nutrients. This can be obtained from a variety of fruit and vegetables, particularly beans.
This type of fibre is found in whole grains, seeds, fruit skins, vegetables (in small amounts) and increases the mass of your stool, making it pass more quickly through your stomach and intestines.
The final note on fibre?
Soluble fibre is the one you need. Slower digestion and enhanced micronutrient absorption is what we want, but don’t be afraid to eat insoluble fibre, after all, many valuable micronutrients can be found in seeds, whole grains and vegetables. It won’t have any detrimental effects unless you eat lots of it (which is a good idea if you happen to be constipated).
Too much insoluble fibre, especially before a long run can make you need to sprint to the bushes away from prying eyes and unload which can be a very unpleasant experience.
To sum up, you want to consume adequate amounts of each food group to keep your body healthy and to run at your best.
My suggestion would be to try to always eat nutrient dense food, especially vegetables and to include a variety of foods throughout the week to ensure you get a range of proteins, fats and micronutrients so that your body gets all the nutrients it needs.
What do you eat to keep yourself healthy?