While what you eat before, during and after your sport is very important, a healthy, balanced diet, providing sufficient energy to fuel your training, as well as sufficient macronutrients (carbs, protein and fats) and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) should be a high priority for every sporty person. Such a diet will help you and your family perform at your best, have sustained energy, improve your health and prevent illness. Let’s take a closer look at some of the components of a healthy diet as well as guidelines around the amounts required. Take note that while not mentioned in this article, other important dietary components to monitor are your fluid and fibre intake.
Achieving an energy balance requires energy taken in through food and drinks to match energy expended through the body’s daily functions and activity. Sufficient daily energy intake is essential for ensuring that the body is able to perform all necessary functions, while still having sufficient fuel for training. It is therefore important to make sure that your whole family’s diet provides enough energy for their specific needs. A diet too low in calories will not see any of you performing at your best
Carbohydrates play numerous roles in sports, arguably the most important of which is its role in energy provision. They provide an important energy source to muscles during exercise and since the body is only able to store limited amounts of carbohydrates, it is important that adequate amounts are provided through the diet.
For good health, the majority of carbohydrates in the diet should come from nutrient-dense sources such as wholegrain breads and cereals, rice, pasta, fruits, starchy vegetables (e.g. sweet potato, potato and corn), legumes as well as dairy products. Try to always include lower GI products to provide sustained energy.
Training families require a moderate amount of protein in the diet. Protein is essential for many functions within the body, including it’s often most recognised function, muscle repair and growth. Requirements can usually be met with a well-planned diet. Intake should ideally be spread throughout the day, rather than at one or two meals. Protein can be obtained from both plant and animal sources, but it is important to be aware that animal proteins, while high quality are often high fat and that lower fat options should be prioritised. Below are some examples of both plant and animal protein sources which could be included in the diet.
- Skinless chicken or turkey
- Tuna, hake, trout, salmon
- Pork without fat rind, fresh ham
- Red meat, visible fat cut off before cooking
- Extra lean mince
- Split peas
- Chick peas
While fat is necessary for absorption and transportation of fat soluble vitamins, protection of organs, brain development and is an integral component of cell membranes, it is also a very energy-dense macronutrient. This means that an excessive intake can lead to weight gain. While fat requirements will vary at different ages, the major fat sources in the diet should be unsaturated, coming mostly from plant sources. These are considered “healthy fats” because they can lower “bad” cholesterol and increase “good” cholesterol which benefits the heart and vascular system. Omega-3 fatty acids also provide many health promoting benefits, while trans-fats should be avoided as far as possible, always check trans-fat content on labels.
‘Micronutrients’ refers to vitamins and minerals, which the body requires in small amounts daily for many necessary functions. Each micronutrient has a NRV or a daily intake considered to be sufficient to meet the currently recognised nutritional needs of the majority of healthy people. Active people may have slightly increased requirements for certain micronutrients, however, with meeting increased energy requirements and eating a healthy, balanced diet, without any food group exclusions, micronutrient requirements are also usually met. Pay special attention to fruit and vegetable intake, making sure that you eat 5 or more servings per day. Fruit and vegetables are rich sources of micronutrients. Ensure that you vary your choices of fruit and vegetables, choosing different colour options.
Reaching the nutritional requirements of your active family is not as difficult as many people believe. A diet providing sufficient energy, macronutrients and micronutrients just requires a good understanding of requirements and planning from there.