Question: I hear a lot about the influence diet has on exercise performance, but I’m never sure what foods are best for helping ensure the best results. Any advice?
Answer: Protein, carbohydrates and fats are all important components of a healthy diet, and each contributes differently to how well our bodies function.
Carbohydrates strongly affect your workout performance, but that can be good or bad, depending. Simple carbs include refined sugars like table sugar and white flour products, as well as naturally occurring sugars found in fruit and milk. Simple carbs cause your blood sugar to spike and then fall quickly, making them a poor choice before a workout.
Complex carbs provide a slow, even flow of energy, which is ideal for exercise. Complex carbs include whole grains, dry beans and peas, vegetables and starches such as pasta.
Fats are a secondary source of energy during your workouts. There are different types of fats: saturated and unsaturated. Saturated fats come from animal sources such as meat, milk and butter, and also from coconut and palm oils. These fats pack together tightly and squeeze into small spaces, such as arteries, causing blockages.
Unsaturated fats come from vegetable, nut, seed and fish sources, and they include safflower, olive, peanut and corn oils.
They do not pack as easily, making them less likely to clog arteries than saturated fat. Some of the best fats for exercisers are found in nuts, seeds, whole grains, fish and flaxseed oil.
Proteins are essential for the growth and repair of all body tissues, and they are classified as either complete (containing all the essential amino acids) or incomplete (lacking essential amino acids). Amino acids are broken down and redistributed wherever your body needs them. Unlike carbohydrate and fat, protein is not an efficient source of energy.
The best sources of complete protein are eggs, meat, milk and fish.
There are five key vitamins that can help with building muscle strength and tone:
- Vitamin D is essential for overall immune system function and associated with muscle strength and performance.
- Fish oil or the omega-3 fats in fish oil may decrease muscle protein breakdown. A recent study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition shows that fish oil helps enhance the effect of strength training in elderly women. Fish oil is most commonly obtained through supplements and by consuming a variety of fish such as salmon, tuna and mackerel.
- Vitamin C is required for collagen and elastin synthesis, and is responsible for the health of the blood vessels.
- Vitamin E is an important antioxidant that helps cell membrane recovery from oxidative stress.
- B vitamins are essential to muscle strength and tone.
Marjie Gilliam is a personal trainer and fitness consultant.