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As an elite athlete, I know that diet is an imperative factor which contributes towards individual performance and success. I love to cook and I regularly visit my Local Fruit Shop where I can find all things nutritious to prepare healthy meals.

A healthy diet is important for anyone, regardless of their activity levels. It establishes a steady stream of energy and ensures proper organ and muscle performance. High performance athletes require a much larger amount of energy due to intense periods of exercise, making a healthy diet non-negotiable. A majority of calories obtained by athletes come from the macronutrients within food – carbohydrates, proteins and fats. Supporting these macros are micronutrients such as vitamins and minerals which have a low caloric count but are essential to absorption of energy and all body functioning. A diet high in fresh produce and lean meats is essential to support peak athletic performance.

Fresh fruit and vegetables are fantastic sources of macro and micronutrients. While athletes may supplement their diet with protein powders or vitamin supplements, these should always be in support of a healthy diet, and should never replace food itself. All nutrients needed for high-performance athletes are found in fresh produce provided at Your Local Fruit Shop.

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Below is a quick overview of how a healthy diet impacts athletic performance.

Protein

Animal protein – eggs, chicken, pork, turkey, fish, avocado, and red meats

Plant protein – lentils, hemp and chia seeds, nuts, quinoa, tempe, legumes, tofu, grain bread, wild rice, oats

Protein is the building block of the human body. It builds cells and helps to repair,  maintain and grow muscles. During high intensity exercise, particularly weight training, the muscles tear through use. Protein helps to rebuild these tears after training in order to ensure they resume proper functioning. Proteins are made up of over 20 amino acid chains which all work to help the body in various ways. After exercise, the body sits in a heightened state of protein absorption. Combining protein with carbohydrates increases intake of amino acids as the insulin released during carb digestion tells the body to absorb the amino acids at a greater rate. Athletes who are protein deficient will see symptoms such as muscle weakness, fatigue, decreased concentration, mood swings, slower recovery and poor sleep.

Carbohydrates

Simple carbohydrates: fruits, vegetables, dairy and refined sugars and sweeteners.

Complex carbohydrates: whole grains, cereals, brown rice and starchy vegetables like sweet potato and legumes.

Carbohydrates serve as your body’s primary source of energy which is particularly important for athletes. When carbs are digested, they are converted to glucose by an enzyme called amylase. This glucose is then either used or stored in the muscle and liver for later use. Every organ and muscle in the body requires adequate amounts of carbohydrates in order to perform, as glucose is the largest fuel source for cellular activity.

When exercising, the body initially uses your glucose stores for energy. Once these energy stores are depleted the body then begins breaking down muscle and fat for fuel. When this happens fatigue, muscle weakness and a range of other negative symptoms can appear. For high performing athletes it’s important that glucose stores in the body remain high enough to properly fuel them for performance, hence the importance of carbs in an athlete’s diet.

There are two key types of carbs, simple and complex, for high performance, athletes want to consume appropriate amounts of complex carbohydrates to ensure a steady release of energy. Simple carbohydrates are found in fruits and provide a fast source of energy as they are rapidly digested.

Fats

Animal Fats – Salmon, tuna, eggs, lean meats, milk, yogurt, cheese,

Plant Fats – nuts, seeds, avocados, olive oil, macadamia oil, coconut milk, coconut oil, olives, edamame

Fats are often looked at in a negative light however they are extremely important in an athletes diet. Many key nutrients and minerals are fat soluble, meaning in order to be absorbed into the body they need to bind to fat molecules first. Fats add caloric value to an athlete’s diet, helping athletes to reach their daily energy intakes. Essential fatty acids and oils also provide the body with key hormones which control your body’s biochemical reactions. Fats work to reduce inflammation that results from exercise helping in muscle recovering and keep key joints healthy such as knees and ankles.

Vitamins

Orange fruit and veg is high in vitamin C, green contains Chlorophyll, red contains lycopene, purple provides resveratrol, brown and white produce are high in fiber and magnesium.

Micronutrients like vitamins and minerals play a massive role in energy production and overall body health. Micronutrients boost oxygen-carrying blood cells, maintain immunity, bone health and fluid balances. They also help with muscle repair and release of oxidative stress. Fruit and vegetables are packed with a whole range of key vitamins and minerals, which is why government health recommends at least 2 serves of fruit and 5 serves of vegetables every day. As covered in a previous article, each different colour group of fresh produce contains different sets of nutrients which help in a variety of body functioning.

Key nutrients for athletes are calcium for skeletal strength, iron to increase oxygen – carrying capacity of blood cells,  magnesium and zinc for muscle repair, vitamin B -1 2 or energy release from carbohydrates and vitamin D which is essential for calcium absorption.

Fibre

Carrot, broccoli, raspberries, avocado, sweet potato, corn, almonds, banana, apple, psyllium husk.

Fibre is technically a carbohydrate, however, does not add to calorie intake as it is not digested into the bloodstream. Two types of fibre are insoluble and soluble. Insoluble fibre absorbs and neutralises toxins in the body. Water-soluble fibre breaks down into a gel-like consistency and aids in the absorption of minerals and removes excess nutrients such as cholesterol from the body. Maintaining a high fibre diet helps athletes to absorb essential nutrients from carbohydrates, proteins and vitamins. Soluble fibre also works to stabilize blood glucose levels which prevents athletes from suffering drops in energy levels.

Dietary fibre helps to digest and process the food we eat and is therefore essential in aiding digestion of carbohydrates, proteins, fats and vitamins.

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