By Rory O’Gorman and Anthony Caldwell
Depending on your age, body type and lifestyle, dietary requirements differ. We need a combination of carbohydrates, protein, vitamins, fat, minerals and of course, lots of water. In simple terms, we need carbohydrates as a fuel supply for our muscles, we need proteins for that muscle growth we read about as well as their repair.
Protein-rich sports nutrition has become fashionable but it’s easy to neglect the importance of carbohydrates if you are involved in a rigorous fitness regime. A growing number of journal articles, magazine features and indeed online videos make bold claims as regards what should and shouldn’t be adhered to. For the average person, it is incredibly difficult to sort the good from the bad to the outright nonsense.
The recreational ‘bootcamper’ and professional differ in the quantities and proportions consumed. The thing is, glorifying protein above all others isn’t necessarily a good idea. We need to balance both carbs and protein. This is because protein is vital in muscle repair and recovery post-exercise. The best possible time to take protein is about one-hour post-exercise (Aragorn and Shoenfeld, 2013) although there are some that recommend that this could be taken before going to bed though (Res et al. 2012).
Endurance athletes load up on carbohydrates because they may be exercising for over three hours, but for the average 90-minute team sport it’s not as important. It’s probably obvious to anyone involved in healthier lifestyle choices, fitness and training that while sugary foods i.e. biscuits, bars, sweets and so on give an energy boost, they’re no good for you. So, where can we get these carbs from? Well, we really need a sustained slow release of the energy derived from carbohydrates and the high fibre sources that provide this include; wholegrain breads, fruit, pasta, beans, lentils and peas etc. These are more slowly absorbed by the body and so, release their energy in a more controlled way.
When you’re exercising, carbohydrates are stored as glycogen, which is converted into glucose in those muscles that are working hard. Carbohydrates of the type mentioned above help fuel your body and help to enhance your performance during exercise. For example, the main fuel you’ll use if running will be carbohydrate. Post-exercise, carbohydrate intake in terms of grams per kilogram of body mass rather than percentage of dietary energy intake is an important consideration (Burke, Kiens and Ivy, 2004; Potgieter, 2013).
As regards, protein quality. Again, the packaging and celebrities promise a great deal but nothing beats wholefoods i.e. fish, eggs and lean meat and for the vegetarian, this includes, beans, peas and lentils. There are many more of course, but you get the point. Since we have demanding lifestyles many supplement their diet with protein powder for convenience, however, give some thought to milk which in particular contains the many of the carbohydrates and protein you need to aid recovery.
Celebrity diets oriented around a ‘superfood’ are everywhere and promise much, perhaps deliver little unless you have a personal trainer working with you for hours a day. But what research supports this diet and what might it mean for me my exercise regime and lifestyle?
It’s really not all about the protein and unfortunately people have become somewhat reluctant to eat carbohydrates in an attempt to eliminate calories, particularly those more concerned about weight gain. Research recommends that we consume carbohydrates in addition to a protein post-exercise exercise for the specific purpose of increasing muscle mass (Figueirdo and Smith, 2013). As regards, how much carbohydrate you need in your diet, again, it depends on what you want to achieve. The best advice is to simply ask your trainer, after all, they’ve been watching you develop over a long period of time, know what your strengths and weaknesses are and probably know what you need better than you.
Aragon, A., A., Schoenfeld, B., J., (2013). Nutrient timing revisited: is there a post-exercise anabolic window? Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. Vol 10, Issue 5
Burke, L., M., Kiens, B., Ivy., J., L., (2004). Carbohydrates and fat for training and recovery. Journal of Sports Sciences, Vol. 22, pp.15-30.
Figueiredo, V., C., Smith, D., C., (2013). Is carbohydrate needed to further stimulate muscle protein synthesis/hypertrophy following resistance exercise? Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. Vol.10, Issue 42.
Potgieter, S., (2013). Sport nutrition: A review of the latest guidelines for exercise and sport nutrition. South African Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Vol. 26, Issue 1, pp. 6-16
Res P., T., Groen B, Pennings B, Beelen M, Wallis GA, Gijsen AP, Senden JM, VAN Loon LJ (2012). Protein ingestion before sleep improves post-exercise overnight recovery. Med Science Sports Exercise,44(8), pp.1560-9. Available at, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22330017
Rory O’Gorman runs ‘Next Level Fitness’ in Letterkenny Co. Donegal sharing his passion for achieving peak health and fitness goals with all ages and ranges of fitness.
Anthony Caldwell is a health and fitness advocate and regular trainee with Rory.