More Than Macros

Have you ever noticed that some people get sick less often, have much far more energy, and just have more zip? For a professional athlete, being tired affects performance, recovery and injury which ultimately can result in career success or failure.

On the face of it, one of my most recent clients had the perfect diet. As a young front row professional in rugby, weight needs to be at least 100 kg. His weight is stable at 100kg indicating that calories from food is balanced with the calories the body is using up. He has a respectable balance of carbohydrate (45%), protein (25%) and fat (30%), which he diligently records on the nutrition app myfitnesspal.  Permission to polish the halo?

The problem: his body fat is too high (16%), and he needs to build muscle mass, while maintaining the 100kg weight.

Essentially, we need to reduce calories to drop body fat, yet increase calories to build muscle (with a strength training programme in place to stimulate muscle growth). A physiological conundrum. This is a tricky scenario, and one that needs to be managed over the long term rather than in the few weeks before pre season training starts.

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During our hour long consultation, I gathered detailed info on food & fluid intake, training schedule and body fat (using skin fold callipers). Even before the a detailed computer analysis of nutrition quality, I could see that his diet was high in refined carbohydrates (sugary breakfast cereals, chocolate, sweets, bread, rolls), and low in vegetables and healthy fats.

The solution: quality and timing of food is as important as quantities of calories, carbs, protein and fat. Regular meals and snacks through out the day, with specific nutrient timing around training sessions, can make the difference between food used for fat storage  or muscle building. Using foods which not only meet the macronutrient targets, but also add extra punch nutritionally can manage the body’s mind bogglingly complex metabolism to meet these targets.

My client’s detailed nutrient analysis showed: Very low: vitamin C, vitamin A, vitamin E, vitamin K, folic acid and omega 3 fats. High in saturated fats and refined carbohydrates. This backs up my observation that he eats a lot of processed food (mainly bread and sugary breakfast cereals, chocolate and sweets), not enough veg/fruit or wholegrain carbs, and no fish.

So what? Why does this matter??

Here’s a table showing what these nutrients do in the body:

Nutrient Function Source
A Antioxidant: scavenges free radicals produced by exercise. Skin healing Fish, liver, green vegetables, carrots, yellow and orange fruit
E Antioxidant: scavenges free radicals produced by exercise Vegetable oils, nuts
K Formation of bone proteins, blood clotting Leafy green vegetables
C Wound healing, bone & blood vessel health Citrus fruit, tomatoes, potatoes, broccoli, strawberries, peppers
Folic Acid Making red blood cells Green vegetables, fruit
Omega 3 fats Anti inflammatory, muscle and wound healing, reduces muscle soreness after exercise Salmon, mackerel, sardines, walnuts, flaxseed

What happens when you lack these nutrients?

  1. more tired and lethargic – less zip
  2. more likely to get sick
  3. sorer muscles after weights and rugby sessions
  4. take longer to recover, having an impact on following training sessions and games
  5. injuries and niggles can take longer to heal

The bottom line:

If you think it’s ok to exist on white bread, pizza, biscuits etc, you need to realise that this will impact your every aspect of your performance. Fuelling is a fundamental contributing factor to how well you train. Man up – eat your veg. No excuses. Shopping List

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