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The role of sports nutrition for students

Rick Hay, Anti-Ageing Food and Fitness Nutritionist, explains how to achieve the best sports performance

Posted by Lucinda Reid | December 05, 2016 | Sports & Leisure

Good nutritional intake is important for children to achieve optimum sports performance.

Without the right fuel athletic performance will suffer - fatigue, dehydration, muscle tightness and lack of concentration can result if good nutrition is lacking. Getting the right type of food into a student’s diet will not only improve their sporting performance it will also improve their cognition and overall academic performance.

It is important that a students diet be as colourful as possible and as fresh as possible too. Highly processed foods can result in sugar spikes which can eventually lead to tiredness, fatigue and irritability. Meals that are well balanced and that contain lots of colour are higher in antioxidants which help with repair and recovery.

In order to achieve good athletic performance think about the food being as varied and as international as possible - this way you are more likely to ensure that the key nutrients for sports performance like magnesium, iron, B group vitamins, glutamine and Co Enzyme Q 10 are included.

Coloured foods boost immune function and are more likely to be high in fibre which is the perfect blood sugar regulator and good blood sugar regulation is integral to sustained energy release and improved physical performance.

I’m a big fan of giving students fruit and vegetable combination smoothies to help increase their intake and get them closer to their five a day. (Currently less than 30 per cent would be getting that recommended amount) Think of something like a handful of English spinach, a banana, a couple of dates and 200mls of coconut milk or rice milk. This is just the trick and is packed full of energy producing magnesium and chlorophyll. Adding a serving of plant based protein like hemp, pea or rice will further fuel energy and lean muscle mass. This could be further boosted by adding a superfood powder like nutrient rich spirulina, acia, goji or wheat grass. These nutrient dense foods help fuel energy production at a cellular level.

Fresh juices are also a good idea and one that is terrific to help fuel sports performance is something like beetroot, cherry and ginger. The beetroot helps with nitric oxide production which in turns helps produce that much needed burst of energy - recent research is indicating that cherries help with energy production also whilst ginger is a nervous system tonic as well as being a great circulatory tonic.  Others that are good are things like pineapple, carrot and pear or apple and celery. Mixed berry juices with pomegranate is another that I regularly recommend. These are much better options that sugary, heavily caffeinated energy drinks that place too much pressure on the adrenals and nervous system of students.

The body needs enough energy for training and for proper recovery with the main fuel used during exercise being carbohydrate which is stored in muscle as glycogen.

When exercising, muscles use glycogen and when depleted after exercise these stores need to be replaced. If carbohydrate intake is too low this can lead to muscle fatigue, general tiredness and to what is known as ‘brain fog’. 

Nutrient dense carbohydrate foods such as cereals, breads, pasta, rice, fruits, vegetables and legumes are those that should be used most. Try to stay away from the sugary overall processed varieties that can lead to problems with weight management.

Protein helps repair and rebuild muscle after exercise - it is also used during exercise as an energy source - when thinking protein think chicken, turkey, beef, fish, lentils, chickpeas, free range eggs, dairy foods, nuts and seeds. Plant based protein powders are another good source.

Healthy fats are important for endurance and they also play a role in carbohydrate metabolism. These should include things like nuts, seeds, fish, dairy foods and avocados.  Also hydration is important before, during and after exercise. If students are feeling thirsty chances are they are already headed towards dehydration.

Good nutrition will make a difference - I have seen it first hand when teaching and have seen the difference it makes in my nutritional consultations.

Rick Hay, Dip Nutrition, Dip Botanical Medicine, Dip Teaching, aka 'The Superfoodist' has over twenty years’ experience working with nutrition and botanical medicine. He is also the author of 'The Anti-Ageing Food and Fitness Plan' and lectures in Detox, Cleanse and Sustainable Weight Management at the College of Naturopathic Medicine in London. 

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