Nutrients for Athletes

If you came here and thought I was going to say something about eating more protein then you are in for an enlightening read.

Most of the information that is provided to athletes has to do with getting all of the protein that you think you can fit into your body, eating some carbs (but only for burning), and then the information on fat is by far the most confusing. If you are an athlete, and I don't mean a professional, then what should your nutrient focus really be?


First, I'm going to give you some background into how the information I'm providing you came about. When I sit down and decide to share advice I think to myself, "if I were trying to be the best (insert noun here), who would I look to"? For this particular topic, I decided to dive into who the most impressive athletes have been. If you just thought gymnasts, NFL players, swimmers, tennis players, or runners then you aren't thinking big enough. I'm talking about gladiators, men in the Roman army, and Spartans (not like the race the real Spartans).

If I want you to perform at the peak of athleticism then I need to see how the real athletes got their strength, stamina, and legend.


What is shocking about doing a deep dive into this history is that all of these athletes ate the same. The Roman gladiators were known as the barley men, and the Spartans could walk 75 to 150 miles at a time and they fed mostly on beans, corn, and squash. The Roman army mostly ate vegetables, legumes, fruit, and grains. So does that mean that plants are the reason for their physical prowess or does that mean that they were just all freak athletes?


In a cross-sectional study endurance athletes were compared: omnivores vs vegetarians.

Their stamina and strength were tested. The vegetarians beat out the omnivores in cardiorespiratory fitness, but their peak torque didn't differ between the groups. Other studies have been done as well. National Health Runners study found that vegetarian athletes were able to train harder, longer, and more often.


You may be thinking I'm just going to push plants on you, and I kind of am, but not in the way you make think!


Protein, carbohydrates, and fat are definitely important when it comes to training and performance. But those aren't the only nutrients your body uses when building muscle and pushing your heart rate. So what else is so important you may be wondering.

Antioxidants and fiber! These are the two biggest differences in food from plants and food from animals. Your body also digests these foods easier so that means less energy spent on digestion and more energy spent on training.


Fiber and antioxidants are important when it comes to working out because they aid in recovery, building muscle, and protecting your cells. Your heart, for example, needs to be in peak shape for endurance and even sprinting. That means you cannot have high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or heart disease. You may be thinking that because you are running, cycling, swimming, or lifting weights that you are taking care of those things with just working out. NOPE. You cannot outrun a bad diet. Fiber and antioxidants help to break down the bad cholesterol, LDL and raise your HDL, good cholesterol. By doing this you are protecting your heart.


What is just as important is your immune system and fiber loves your immune system because it loves your gut bacteria. Your gut health is vital when it comes to your immune system, they are connected to one another. Fiber feeds the good bacteria in your gut and that in turn boosts your immune system. According to science, regulatory T cells – produced by the immune system – support tissue repair and may prevent muscle breakdown. They also regulate insulin and blood glucose levels, leading to improved metabolic health. Furthermore, these cells fight inflammation and play a vital role in muscle regeneration.

Recent studies have found that low-fiber diets may cause imbalances in the gut flora, leading to poor health and risk for sickness. Additionally, when gut bacteria are starved of fiber, obesity risk increases, meaning more working out to counteract weight gain.


But what about antioxidants? Antioxidants protect your cells against damage from your workouts and everyday stressors. They also reduce inflammation so that means less injury and immune response. Antioxidants are found in colorful fruits and vegetables. They work to make sure that oxidative stress doesn't take down your cells and protects them so that they can rebuild and support you on your next run.


How do you get more fiber and antioxidants and how much do you really need?

For fiber, I believe you truly cannot get enough, but shoot for 30-40 grams of fiber daily. That may seem like a lot but in a world where you are supposed to eat your entire body weight in protein, this should seem simple! Swap the amount of protein for fiber, but realistically. You really only need up to 43 grams of protein (for women) and 65 grams of protein (for men) maximum daily. The good news is that you can get both fiber and protein together in one serving if you play your cards right. One cup of beans has 41 grams of protein in it and 30 grams of fiber. Boom, done for the day in one or two meals!


I also believe you cannot get enough antioxidants in your day. Antioxidants aren't measured as fiber is so you should go off of a rule of getting enough fruits and vegetables a day- about five to six cups. Another comment I want to make on fiber is that it will keep you fuller longer and it is important to eat the real stuff and not supplements or fortified foods. Eat beans, quinoa, whole grains, oats, broccoli, peas, and nuts. If you eat the fake stuff your body isn't going to benefit from it.


I also believe you cannot get enough antioxidants in your day. Antioxidants aren't measured as fiber is so you should go off of a rule of getting enough fruits and vegetables a day- about five to six cups. Another comment I want to make on fiber is that it will keep you fuller longer and it is important to eat the real stuff and not supplements or fortified foods. Eat beans, quinoa, whole grains, oats, broccoli, peas, and nuts. If you eat the fake stuff your body isn't going to benefit from it.


The next time you are planning your pre and post work out meals think protein, carbs, fiber, fat, and antioxidants. Make sure to try and get these nutrients from plants to give your body more energy and the best chance of performance.


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