As you probably know (or may have guessed), your nutrition can be one of the biggest contributing factors in your daily performance. Whether you are an elite athlete or the average Joe/Jane, what you eat has a profound impact on your day-to-day performance, both mentally and physically. Did you also know that your nutrition can affect how you rehab after an injury? Not only from a performance standpoint, but also from a repair standpoint. To further understand this, we must first look at what nutrition truly is. The Cambridge dictionary defines nutrition as “the substances that you take into your body as food and the way that they influence your health”. The food we eat can be broken down and categorized into 3 macronutrients (which we need in larger quantities) protein, carbohydrates and fat, as well as micronutrients (which we require smaller quantities of – hence “micro” and “macro”) vitamins and minerals.
Facts on Macronutrients
Proteins are the building blocks for our muscles, as well as for our hair, skin and nails. One of their many jobs is to help (re)build, repair and recover muscle and scar tissue. Following a surgery or even after a workout, if your body is lacking the proper amount of protein, it can slow down the healing/repair process. The macronutrient protein also helps regulate metabolism. Keeping that metabolism revved is an important part of daily function and performance.
Carbohydrates get a bad rap. Many articles have been written and there has been much discussion about “carbs”, but the fact is that our bodies need carbohydrates for energy and brain power. According to the book “Nutrition & You”, carbohydrates are our body’s preferred energy source. It also informs us that our red blood cells and our brain rely heavily on the glucose derived from carbohydrates in order to function. If we do not have adequate intake of carbohydrates (this often happens when we skip meals – such as breakfast), our blood sugar can drop and we enter a state of hypoglycemia where a person may experience nausea, dizziness, increased heart rate and become pale and sweaty. Again, inhibiting our daily function; and if this happens during a therapy session, well, lets just say it inhibits that too. Optimal blood sugar is said to be 25g of glucose circulating in the bloodstream consistently throughout the day. High glycemic foods such as candy and white grains create peaks and valleys of glucose in the body, whereas low glycemic foods such as oatmeal and most fruits and veggies create a steady release of glucose. So as you can see, not all carbs are created equal and I believe this is where the controversy comes in, BUT, when we stick to whole grains, fruits and vegetables they help give us the energy and brain power that we need throughout the day.
Fat, similarly to carbohydrates, tends to have a negative connotation associated with it. People sometimes wrongfully associate eating fat, with getting “fat”. But once again, not all fats are created equal and in fact, our bodies need fat for energy, insulation and to aid in absorption of other vitamins and minerals (specifically vitamins A, D, E & K). Fats such as linoleic acid (omega 3) and alpha-linolenic acid (omega 6) are essential, meaning our bodies can not produce them, we must obtain them through the foods we eat. Choosing foods rich in Omega 3 can help to prevent irregular heartbeats, reduce atherosclerosis, mildly lower blood pressure, decrease clumping/clustering of platelets & lower the level of fat in the blood. Omega 6 is important to the nervous system and helps with the transmission of nerve signals. Another important fat is Omega 9. Omega 9 has many important purposes, it improves the inflammatory response, helps improve the immune system, helps lower cholesterol, aids in vitamin absorption and helps to reduce your risk of cancer (just to name a few). So, you can see that, when eating the proper fats in moderation, our bodies utilize fat not only for insulation and energy, but also to aid in repairing tissues and as a natural defense mechanism.
Vitamins/Minerals: Although they do not give direct energy, they play a vital role in your body’s ability to function at the cellular level. They work with your immune system and help chemical reactions take place in our cells, helping muscles contract and keep our heart beating. They also have antioxidant properties to help protect cells from damage and support our metabolism.
A Few Key Vitamins/Minerals to keep in mind
- Sodium, Potassium and Chloride to help maintain fluid balance.
- Calcium and Phosphorus for bone health.
- Magnesium for metabolism support and to help maintain healthy muscles, nerves, bones and heart.
- Iron to aid red blood cells in oxygen transportation (deficiency can cause fatigue).
- Vitamin A is essential for bone development and enhances the immune system.
- Vitamin B; there are a whole series of B vitamins the body needs. Their benefits range from aiding in cell function, metabolism support, blood transport and neurotransmission.
- Vitamin C to aid iron absorption and help produce collagen used to rebuild and repair connective tissue.
- Vitamin D is imperative for bone growth/health.
- Vitamin E aids in lowering cholesterol and reduces build up in arteries.
- Vitamin K is essential for blood clotting and bone health.
Water is another key component to aid the body in carrying out daily functions. For more information on how water can help, please review the May 2020 blog post “Benefits of Staying Hydrated” by Allison McNeal.
HEALTHY HABITS TO OPTIMIZE YOUR PERFORMANCE
- Keep healthy food choices on hand and available – stick a snack in your purse/car, things I like to call the original “fast food”, such as fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, a cheese stick or some jerky. This way, you can be prepared to “graze” throughout the day and not be tempted to grab a sugary snack during that mid-morning or mid-afternoon slump.
- DON’T SKIP BREAKFAST – even if you “aren’t hungry”. Breakfast is literally “breaking a fast”. When starting the day with a nutritious breakfast, you are not only igniting your metabolism, but also giving your brain the fuel it needs to perform its best. By skipping breakfast you are starting the day at a disadvantage.
- Graze throughout the day. Plan to eat 6 small meals instead of 2-3 larger ones. This not only helps keep your glycemic index level and steady, but also helps keep your metabolism revved while keeping you feeling satisfied throughout the day.
- Regular Exercise – working out reduces stress hormones that inhibit brain activity, promotes improved sleep and increases the size of the hippocampus – the area of the brain that is responsible for memory, thinking and learning. Studies show, those who exercise regularly are 23% more productive at work on days they exercise.
- Eat the rainbow – Eat variety.
The more variety we have when we make our food choices, the better chance we have to make sure we obtain all the macro and micro nutrient needs.
For additional questions or information on your specific dietary needs, please consult with a Registered Dietitian.