When training at a high intensity getting your nutrition right is key. This will help improve your recovery, speed, strength, energy levels and motivation. This article is going to give you a base level of knowledge to get you on your way to experiencing these benefits.
I’m going to start off with one of the most important topics to begin your journey to optimum nutrition…. macronutritients.
Macronutrients are the main components of our food, these are; protein, fats and carbohydrates. They are called ‘macro’ because we need them in large amounts. The amounts you need of each of these macronutrients depends on your training goal, weight goal, body composition and body type. I’m sure we all know people who can eat anything they want and not put on any weight (muscle or fat); these people tend to cope with higher carbohydrate diets. Whereas people who struggle to lose fat tend to work better on higher protein and fat diets. There are exceptions to this but we will go into more detail in other articles.
Let’s see what these three macronutrients do for us…..
Protein is probably the most well known macro amongst people who train. There are hundreds of different protein powders and amino acids on the market nowadays, but what actually is it and why is it so popular?
Protein is made up of 21 amino acids. 8 of these are essential which means our body can’t produce them so we need to get them from our food. Different protein sources contain different amino acids and all the different amino acids have specific functions. There are only certain sources of protein that have all 8 essential amino acids. All animal sources of protein do, but most vegan sources don’t. This means vegans need to be clever about their protein, especially if you’re trying to improve strength and performance.
Protein is essential for muscle recovery and repair. During a workout muscles experience normal microscopic damage that breaks down muscle fibres. The protein you consume after a workout rebuilds these fibres and aids recovery. The recovery process involves synthesis of new fibres in addition to an increase in the bulk of existing muscle fibres.
Sources of protein- non vegan/veggie options include meat, poultry, fish, eggs, whey protein powder, bee pollen. Vegan options include nuts and seeds, chia seeds, hemp seeds, beans and lentils, quinoa, avocados, organic tofu, temph, spirulina, maca powder, hemp, rice and pea protein powders.
Many people have a phobia of fat as it has been given a bad reputation. The misconception that fats make you fat has meant ‘low fat’ products have become very popular and are seen by many as ‘healthy’. This is very wrong as they are highly processed and have lots of added sugar which is much more likely to cause fat gain than fats.
Fats are essential for many functions in the body such as hormone production, joint health, nervous system health, cell permeability, absorption of nutrients and much more.
There are different types of fats- unsaturated (including omega 3 essential fatty acids), saturated and trans fats. Unsaturated and saturated have very important functions in the body which are listed above. Trans fats however have no use at all and are very damaging to our health. Trans fats are man made fats and their molecular structure is changed during processing which means our bodies don’t recognise them. Therefore our body will store it, as it can’t use it for anything. This will lead to high cholesterol, heart disease and many more health conditions. Trans fats include any precessed foods such as chocolate, crisps, biscuits but also processed oils such as vegetable oil.
Good sources of saturated fats include organic fatty meats, organic butter and coconut oil. Good sources of unsaturated fats include fatty fish, avocado, olive oil, nuts and seeds, chia seeds, hemp seeds and flaxseed oil.
Carbs have also started to get a bad reputation. This started with the Atkins diet, then Dukan, and also to some extent the paleo diet. The rapid weight loss that comes from taking carbs out of the diet tends to make people scared of introducing them back in and eating them regularly. However, when people take this whole food category out of their diets they don't replace it with anything which causes a massive drop in calories. This will cause weight loss but it’s not sustainable unless you replace those calories with either more protein or fats.
Carbohydrate have become the main macronutrients in the standard british diet and this is when carbohydrates are an issue. When you eat carbs of any source the hormone insulin is released. The more carbs you eat the more insulin is released. This can lead to insulin resistance, so insulin can’t do it’s job optimally. This leads to fat storage and eventually diabetes. However, there is no need to be worried about this happening if you are a healthy weight and eating the right amount of carbs for your body.
Whole food carbohydrates have their place, especially when training at a high intensity. They provide sustained and high quality energy and are high in fibre, as well as being a source of essential vitamins such as iron, B vitamins and vitamin E. Plus, low carb diets can lead to high cortisol levels…which can then lead to fat gain.
Carbohydrates tend to be broken down into simple and complex carbs, but I like to look at them more as whole food and processed carbs. Whole food carb sources include sweet potato, starchy vegetables, rolled oats, quinoa, brown rice, buckwheat, millet, white potato, beans, lentils and fruit.
Then there are micronutrients. When nutrition is talked about in the training sense, the main focus tends to be on macronutrients. However, micronutrients are just as important, if not more important. These are all the vitamin, minerals, phytochemical etc. I won’t go through all of them in this article, but basically we wouldn’t be alive if it wasn’t for these little nutrients. These are what our body and cells thrive on. When we eat food it is broken down, digested and absorbed into the body. All our macronutrients are broken down into these micronutrients. This is why digestion is so important. If we’re not digesting our food, we won’t be getting these nutrients….no matter ho many macronutrients we’re eating.
We get micronutrients from a variety of whole foods but the most nutrient dense food is plants. Fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds are packed with vital nutrients and enzymes.
The main thing to always keep in mind is to eat whole, natural food that is in the same state as it would be in nature. That way you know your body will recognise it as food. We will talk about the amounts of each macronutrient in future articles.