Top tips for eating healthily

Eating healthily doesn’t have to be an exact science - where is the fun in watching every single little thing that passes between your lips? - but the sports scientists are right: if you eat well, you will perform well.

There are some golden rules to abide by if you want to achieve your best in sports performance. If you follow them alongside your training schedule, you are halfway towards that personal best in swimming, cycling or running.

Eat well to perform well - 5 rules

1. Thirsty? Drink water.

Human bodies are 60 per cent water, blood is 92 per cent water and the brain and muscles are 75 per cent water. Drinking the clear stuff keeps our bodies blood volume higher and our core body temperature lower - making us more efficient to deal with the task at hand. Sports drinks are designed to help us rehydrate after intense periods of exercise because they contain similar concentrations of salt and sugar as in the human body. This year, the marketing of sport drinks and the importance attached to staying hydrated has been subject to intense speculation and is likely to rumble on for some time. However, obey your body and drink when you feel like it.

2. Eat little and often.

Three square meals a day can lead to blood sugar levels dipping mid-morning or mid-afternoon. Eating little and often answers the body’s energy needs and keeps levels consistent throughout the day - meaning no more desire for a mid-afternoon nap at your desk. Mixed nuts and seeds, carrot sticks and hummus, dried fruit or a couple slabs of dark chocolate (in moderation) should keep those rumblings at bay.

3. Avoid processed food.

OK, so we all have our moments of weakness but a super-size MacDonald’s the night before a big event probably isn’t going to provide you with the good energies needed to get to the finish line in the best time you can. Lots of ‘unnatural’, fried or fast foods contain high levels of salt (or sugar) and are full of the type of fat that can, if eaten frequently and long term, clog the arteries. Think of food as fuel and as a means of preparing your body for the swim, ride or run of your life. Be kind to it by eating clean food packed with nutrients and avoiding empty calories, artificial additives and preservatives.

 4. Eat your greens (and reds, yellows, purples…)

Fruits and vegetables should form the basis of any diet, given their nutritional and health benefits. They're a good source of vitamins and minerals, including folate, vitamin C and potassium and they're an excellent source of dietary fibre, which helps maintain a healthy gut and prevent constipation and other digestion problems. They can help reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke and some cancers.

It’s recommended we should eat five portions a day. So what does a portion size look like? According to the NHS; it’s a medium sized apple, 30g of dried fruit or three heaped teaspoons of cooked vegetables. Smoothies, made with different fruits, count as two of your five-a-day. 

5. Recover well.

Recovery is just as important as preparation. Our bodies cry out to be restocked as soon the intensity of exercise is lowered. Swimming, cycling and running drains glycogen stores in the muscles so you must ingest nutrients such as carbohydrates and protein to stimulate glycogen synthesis and muscular repair. Each person has their own preference: some like to have an energy bar; others prefer banana or peanut butter on toast or a bagel. If the thought of eating solids makes your stomach churn, try a smoothie, packed with milk, a banana and other choice fruits.

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