Not only does what you eat affect your overall health, your diet will help you achieve your goals – whether you’re aim is to build muscle or get lean.   Food provides you the nutrients you need and also fuels your workouts.  Before you take a dive into learning about nutrition for sports and exercise, it’s important to understand the basics.  Here are answers to your frequently asked questions:

Why is nutrition important? On a fundamental level, nutrients are the building blocks of the body because they allow the body to grow and to repair itself.  Healthful eating, which provides the nutrients your body needs, is essential to achieve peak performance in working out and in maintaining health.

What are nutrients? There are six major classes of nutrients: water, carbohydrate, fat, protein, vitamins, and minerals.
Water:  The body is made of as much as 75% water.  Staying hydrated is essential for basic physiological actions inside the body, including digestion and absorption of the food and nutrients you consume.
Carbs:  Carbohydrates help provide energy—as calories—for fueling your workouts, and many carbohydrate-containing foods also provide fiber to keep your gastrointestinal tract healthy.
Fat:  Fat provides energy and is essential for transportation and absorption of some vitamins in the body.  Stored fat helps protect organs and maintain body temperature.
Protein:  Protein provides energy and is involved with your immune system and with enzymes that drive chemical reactions in the body.
Vitamins and Minerals:  Without providing caloric energy, vitamins and minerals perform numerous roles, including keeping bones healthy, helping in fuel metabolism, serving as antioxidants that may help ward off chronic illnesses, and helping the blood clot properly.

Bottom line: the food you put into your body determines how healthy you will be and how you function during your workouts.  Furthermore, no amount of exercise will compensate for a poor diet.

How much do I need?  This is highly variable depending upon your unique nutritional needs.  General health status, activity levels, lifestyle, age, and biological sex are some of many determinants of optimal nutrition.  In general, a healthful diet comprises mostly unrefined, whole grain carbohydrates (e.g., oats, whole wheat, brown rice, quinoa), lean proteins (i.e., chicken breast), unsaturated fats (i.e., vegetable oils and foods made with vegetable oils, and nut oils), and as many fruits and vegetables as desired.  If you’d like to learn how to fill your plate based, check out MyPlate at http://www.choosemyplate.gov/.

EXERCISE AND HYDRATION(from NSCF Newsletter, March 2014)

Nutrition plays a large role in exercise performance. The timing of macronutrient intake in relation to an exercise bout can impact the rate of perceived exertion, time-to-exhaustion, rate of adaptations and numerous other factors. Declines in performance have been noted with fluid loss of as little as 2 percent. This quick discussion will focus on recommendations for fluid consumption during exercise to optimize performance.

Summary of concepts related to fluid consumption during exercise:

  • Most exercise sessions lasting <1 hour warrant consumption of plain water, especially if weight management is a major goal
  • This can change if the client is glycogen-depleted or has special dietary needs
  • If training in a hot or very humid environment a sports drink may be advisable
  • Cold beverages help cool the body and are quickly absorbed.
  • Some people may prefer a beverage containing stimulants, such as caffeine. The ergogenic value of caffeine on performance has been well-established however, these drinks and or shots often contain “proprietary blends” that have not been studied in terms of their effects on performance and health
  • A good rule of thumb is to replenish every pound lost during exercise with a pound or so (16 to 24 ounces) of fluid when exercising for a long time. Choosing optimal fluids during prolonged training or competition (>1 hour) requires greater scrutiny
  • Fluids should be cooler than the ambient temperature, flavored to enhance palatability and non-carbonated
  • Fluids should be ingested at a rate of 600-1,200 ml/hour in a solution containing 4-8% carbohydrates in the form of simple sugars such as glucose or sucrose
  • Provides energy while allowing for rapid gastric emptying and absorption
  • Ingestion rates can vary, as do sweating rates among individuals
  • Fluids must not be hypertonic in relation to blood plasma (high carbohydrate content such as in juice ~16-20%) as this delays hydration and can cause gastric distress
  • Fluids should include sodium (500-700 mg/L of fluid consumed) to increase palatability, promote fluid retention and prevent dangerous hyponatremia (low blood sodium)
  • Protein shakes or other beverages are best consumed before and/or after weightlifting sessions aimed at maximizing lean mass gains

AVOCADOS FOR HEALTH  (fromWHFoods Newsletter, Feb. 2014)

Did you know that the fats in avocados are actually good for you? If you have been confused about whether you should eat avocados because of their high fat content, let us help you put this issue to rest. Yes, avocados are high in fat, but their monounsaturated fats, like those found in olive oil, are heart-healthy and can actually help reduce blood cholesterol levels. Plus, research has shown that people on a calorie-restricted diet can enjoy avocados and still reach their weight loss goals. In fact, the American Heart Association encourages substituting the monounsaturated fats found in avocados, nuts and olive oil for many of the fats more commonly used by consumers. Researchers are also finding that some of the phytonutrients (phyto = plant) found in avocados may also help reduce cholesterol levels. So, remember that all fats are not created equal, and enjoy the delicious taste of avocados and their heart-healthy monounsaturated fats.

Breakfast idea: serve your eggs over a sliced avocado, and sprinkle fresh thyme and basil on top. Yum.