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(B. Nutrition & Diet) Nutrition & Wellness Expert for EAT FIT FOOD
Every single day, human bodies have an enormous requirement for a variety of nutrients. Even with the best of intentions, it can be really difficult to meet those requirements. Our bodies can’t synthesise or make most nutrients, so we have to get them from our food. If you add in an athlete’s high intensity training, then you’ve got an even greater need for many of these nutrients and a greater challenge to meet nutritional requirements.
Many athletes, particularly in recent times, tend only to focus on ‘macros’ (macronutrients), or the big nutrients: protein, carbohydrate and fat. There is no doubt these are very important nutrients. But what about precious micronutrients? Did you know a runner has as much as double the dietary requirement of the mineral iron than a moderately active person? What about magnesium for nerve function and potassium for energy production, or precious calcium from dairy foods to maintain bone strength? These nutrients are all available in abundance and in highly absorbable forms in the foods we eat. But as soon as particular foods or, god forbid, food groups are eliminated (as is the case in many diets), nutritional requirements can’t be met. When essential nutrients are neglected and over time, our body and our health are affected leaving us at risk of some chronic diseases.
Recent research is now showing that food is more than just a sum of its nutrient parts. That is, eating the whole food itself is ideal. There are components within a whole food that interact together, while with certain foods actually work better when eaten in combination because there is a synergistic effect that enhances their health benefits. This simply can’t be replicated with a pill. Take for example vitamins A, D, E and K. These are fat-soluble vitamins, which means the human body can’t absorb them unless fats are available at the same time. This is why food sources of vitamin E such as avocado also contain fat. Another example is the non-haem iron found in green leafy vegetables. This is mostly unavailable to the human body unless it is consumed with vitamin C, which transforms it into a form that can be absorbed by our intestines.
Eating a rainbow of colours is also important. I often have patients proudly tell me how they’ve been eating all their greens. But what about all the other colours? Each colour or pigment of plant products indicates a different phytochemical or plant chemical. These phytochemicals can act as antioxidants and have anti-cancer and other disease-fighting properties. For example, the red pigment of tomatoes is a super antioxidant called lycopene shown to offer some protection against prostate cancer, just to name one.
There are certainly cases where nutrient requirements simply can’t be met through diet alone and a supplement is necessary to fill in any nutritional holes. Anyone with food allergies or intolerances such as lactose-intolerance might find achieving calcium requirements difficult through diet, so a supplement is essential to maintain bone strength. Vegetarians miss out on precious highly-absorbable haem iron, vitamin B12 and zinc from meat, so a supplement would ward off the awful effects of a deficiency in these nutrients.
Then there are supplements such as protein powders, bars and energy shots that are specifically targeted to athletes. These are quite different to nutritional supplements and come with a number of other issues – the extra, unidentifiable ingredients added to them. Think protein isolates, artificial sweeteners, chocolate made from maltitol. These are never a better option than eating a wholefood, such as munching on a handful of nuts or an apple. However, there’s no doubt that these supplements are quick, easily available, targeted to particular fitness goals and portion-controlled, which are all real arguments for particularly time-poor people.
The ultimate diet for you starts with a base of whole foods. Make sure foods are kept in their most natural state, ensure there’s a variety of colours in every meal and have a combination of foods that will give you the most nutritional bang for your buck rather than eating them in isolation. Once this is established, then it’s easier to identify the foods and their specific nutrients that may be lacking in your diet so you can make any adjustment to your diet or add supplements if needed. If you are unsure, get the help from an Accredited Practising Dietitian.
If you are time-poor, lack creativity and variety in the kitchen or just simply don’t know where to start to construct a healthy, balanced diet, then a home-delivery healthy eating program such as Eat Fit Food is an excellent tool. They have thousands of meals and snacks that are made fresh and delivered to your door each morning with a number of different programs available depending on your health and fitness goals. The emphasis is on maximising nutrient retention, food combinations for excellent health and providing an endless variety that you may never be able to achieve yourself. So now there really isn’t any excuse to be in absolute tip-top nutritional condition.