Carbohydrates are the main energy source for endurance sports. There are a vast amount of carbohydrates sources and picking the right source is crucial to get the best out of your diet and nutrition for race performance. Generally speaking natural sources of carbohydrates (oats, brown rice, sweet potato, fruit, veg) are preferred as they are whole foods and have more nutritional value. Natural sources of carbohydrates are usually complex carbohydrates or starchy foods.
Processed foods with high sugar content can cause spikes in insulin levels which can lead to inflammation in the digestive system (for general health and nutrition, processed foods should be kept to a minimum). Processed foods contain sugars which are known as simple carbohydrates.
Natural sources of carbohydrates are more beneficial for training nutrition as they provide a slower, more consistent energy release. Pre training nutrition and diet should be complex carbohydrates as they provide a preliminary energy release. Simple carbohydrates are more beneficial during a race or immediately after.
In terms of quantities, the recommended amounts of carbohydrate consumption is 6-7 grams per kilo of bodyweight depending on level of training – 6g for athletes training less than 2 hrs per day and 7 for athletes training over 2 hrs per day.
Protein is used in most body functions and is fundamental to muscle repair and muscle building. Protein is broken down to amino acids. There are 20 amino acids needed to repair and rebuild muscle. These can be found in foods such as turkey, tuna, beef, chicken, cheese and soya foods. In other foods such as beans, legumes and grains, there are incomplete proteins meaning that not all amino acids are needed for muscle repair are contained in these foods. The recommended protein consumption is 1.3 / 1.4g of protein per kilo of bodyweight. Protein is not stored in the body so needs to be consumed on a regular basis.
As a rough guide, the following are the protein content of some of the better protein sources:
Meat, chicken & fish (cooked) 1 oz: 7g
Eggs – 1: 7g
Nuts c cup: 7g (approx)
Peanut butter 2 Tbsp: 7g
Hard cheese 1 oz: 7g
Fats can have numerous different health benefits. There are several different types of fat:
Polyunsaturated fat (found in fish, eggs, nuts) is important for nerve transmission and decreases inflammation (muscles can inflame after training sessions from strenuous exercise)
Monounsaturated fat (found in tomatoes, olives, avocadoes) is good for heart health and helps reduce cholesterol
Saturated fat (found in red meat, dairy products, fried food) protects some organs. Only small amounts of this are required
Other important fats are the fatty acids Omega 3 and Omega 6 (found in fish, grass fed beef, seeds, nuts, eggs). The potential health benefits of Omega 3 and 6 are improved immune system, reduced infection and improved heart health. It is also thought that too much Omega 6 consumption can interfere with the potential benefits of Omega 3.