We are frequently reminded of the importance that exercise and sport play in contributing to a healthy lifestyle. Many of us are guilty of not being physically active enough and often lead sedentary lifestyles, which are contributing to ill health and disease, especially as we age. The media message that exercise is vital for health, is slowly filtering down to us and although physical activity levels in the UK are still not meeting recommended guidelines, more people are trying to find ways of becoming more active.
People often associate exercise with implementing a healthy eating regime too and these two things can certainly be combined well, to improve both physical and mental health. There are however certain foods that are particularly useful when it comes to exercising and which can help improve your sporting performance, provide energy, help to repair muscle or even relieve the aching and soreness of joints after a hard workout. So whether you are currently a novice in the world of exercise, a regular in a sporting club, or a sporting pro who has their sights set on the next Olympics, read on to find out what foods can help support your sporting lifestyle.
Improving performance & energy
For those people who are used to regular and frequent exercise, you will, at some point, have experienced a time when you have reached a peak and just don’t feel you can improve further. It could be that you want to beat a running time, or maybe you just want to lift a heavier weight or swim an extra length. In other words you just wish you could give a little boost to your sport performance. Well now you can, with the help of a couple of different foods, which have been shown to enhance stamina and boost performance.
Beetroot may not be the first thing that springs to mind when you think of foods associated with sport, but this red vegetable can really pack a punch. Beetroot and beetroot juice, has been shown in many
studies to boost sporting performance, so why is this? The simplified explanation is that beetroot contains nitric oxide, which causes the body’s blood vessels to widen and dilate, resulting in increased blood flow through the body. Increased blood flow, means increased oxygen to muscles and tissues, which of course is in high demand during exercise. The dilating effect that beetroot can have on blood vessels, is also the reason why beetroot has been shown to lower blood pressure, so it can be very helpful for those suffering hypotension too. For those who are calorie conscious, you can be safe in the knowledge that beetroot also has a very low calorie content and are packed with a whole range of important nutrients too, so it’s a win win all round with this little beet!
It has also been shown that Watermelon has a very similar effect on blood vessels as with beetroot, so is also a good fruit to eat during sporting activities. Not only will it help give you that extra boost, but as its water content is just over 90%, it is also a very hydrating fruit, which comes in handy when you are sweating!
Some activities such as running, cycling or swimming require stamina and although this is something that can increase with improved fitness, it doesn’t happen overnight. One thing you can do to help improve stamina and endurance, is to eat quinoa. The Incas used to feed this to their warriors to boost their stamina during battles, so it certainly has a good history. This grain is not only very high in protein, but is also a good source of carbohydrate too, so great for both muscle repair (protein) and energy (carbohydrate). It is also gluten free so generally safe for those who suffer with coeliac disease or a gluten intolerance.
Muscle soreness & achy joints
Aching joints and sore muscles are a common symptom after exercise, especially in people that are not used to physical activity. If you have just started exercising, you will probably be suffering the next day and feeling muscles and parts of your body that you never knew existed previously. There are many foods that can help here if eaten post exercise, with pomegranates high on the list.
This fruit is high in polyphenols, which have been shown to reduce muscle soreness and also have anti-inflammatory properties. Tart cherries and blueberries have also shown positive results in reducing muscle soreness after exercise, mainly due to the specific nutrients found in them that have been shown to accelerate the elimination of waste products that are produced by the body during exercise. So after exercise, make sure you reach for these as a quick and healthy snack.
Ginger, turmeric and omega 3 fatty acids found in oily fish an nuts, are all good foods to consume after exercising, as they have all shown to offer powerful anti-inflammatory action. So if you have over worked those muscles and are left in pain, reach for these foods to help reduce inflammation in the body.
During exercise, muscle tissue can become damaged and worn, so it is important this is repaired to restore the muscle ready for its next workout. Protein is your best friend here, and is essential for muscle repair. There are many foods that are good protein sources, but one of the best is milk, including goats’ milk. Consuming 500ml of milk after exercise has been shown to maintain muscle performance during the recovery period and has also been shown to reduce delayed onset muscle soreness, so if you needed another good reason to drink Delamere Dairy Goats’ milk, there it is.
Muscle cramping & ‘stitches’
Whether you are new to exercise or a professional athlete, there is no escaping the inevitable muscle cramping or ‘stitch’ that can strike at any time. This can certainly hinder your activity and leave you slouched in a corner. There is however a naturally occurring amino acid (building blocks of proteins) called Beta-alanine, which has been shown to reduce lactic acid build up in the muscles during exercise. Lactic acid accumulation in the muscles, is responsible for that burning sensation and cramping feeling felt in muscles during activity. Therefore consuming Beta-alanine, or foods which contain it, as part of a daily diet and/or before exercising, can really help reduce the occurrence of ‘muscle burn’. The highest food sources of Beta-alanine are chicken, fish, beef and pork.
Any form of exercise requires energy and one thing that is important when it comes to energy levels is maintaining blood sugar levels. This can be done by eating correctly and eating foods that help stabilise blood sugar levels, as opposed to foods that cause blood sugar levels to spike and then drop suddenly, which is responsible for causing energy slumps.
Cinnamon has also been shown to help alleviate muscle soreness after exercise
Cinnamon has been shown to help regulate blood sugar levels and some initial evidence suggests it could be helpful in those people who suffer with Type 2 diabetes as it can help reduce blood sugar levels. A dosage of just 3-6g daily has shown to have positive impacts on blood sugar levels. You can sprinkle cinnamon on porridge, rice pudding or stewed apple or add to cakes and flapjacks. You can also make a wonderful drink with it by heating 1 cup of wonderfully creamy Delamere Dairy goats’ milk and adding a fresh cinnamon stick or 1 tsp of powdered cinnamon to it, along with 1 tsp of honey. Stir gently until just starting to simmer then serve in a mug. Cinnamon has also been shown to help alleviate muscle soreness after exercise, so after working yourself hard, why not put your feet up with a mug of cinnamon milk and ease that muscle pain.
Whole grain foods such as oats, rice, whole wheat pasta, rye and quinoa should be your first choice when it comes to carbohydrate foods, which are required to give your body energy. This is because whole grain foods slow the release of sugar into the blood stream, which means that energy levels remain more consistent throughout the course of the day.
Energy drinks can be useful to some people before a large bout of physical activity or an endurance sport, as they can help to give a quick boost of energy. However, as many of these drinks are very high in caffeine and sugar they should not be consumed frequently. Caffeine is the most widely used drug in the world and many people rely on it to give them energy. Like most things, a small amount can be helpful, but do not rely solely on caffeine and caffeine based products to give you energy for physical activity.
Summer is a good time to start increasing your physical activity levels and with longer day light hours and better weather there is no excuse to not enjoy the outdoors. By implementing the foods discussed above in your diet, it will help you to put your best foot forward and allow your body to work that little bit harder.