Not every unhealthy food is bad news for athletes, Athletics weekly have asked the experts to reveal some that might actually enhance your diet.
Nutritious diet is essential for performance. Eating the right foods means you prepare and recover from intense training with relative ease, packing in essential nutrients in the process. What is surprising, though, is that the focus for athletes need not solely be on wholesome, nutrient-packed fare. Despite being labelled unhealthy for the general population, sugar and refined carbs are often uppermost in the minds of sports scientists who plan elite performers’ diets. While this isn’t a green light to eat every meal in Burger King or Nandos, there are occasions when you can indulge an appetite for refined or sugar foods.
When training for more than 90 minutes, you need 200g to 300g of easily digested carbohydrates each hour to keep blood sugar and energy levels stable. Sugar-loaded sport drinks and gels can do this, but some athletes prefer “real food,” says Christine Cashin, a lecturer in sports nutrition at the University of Wales who works with many top athletes at her Cardiff Nutrition Consultancy (cardiffnutritionconsultancy.co.uk). “Jelly beans or other sweets can be a good thing,” Cashin says. “Use them in moderation as an energy boost.”
Pizza gets the green light for athletes and Jonathan Brownlee, no less, is a fan. “On the night before a triathlon I normally eat something simple like a pizza,” Brownlee says. “You know where you stand with pizza. It’s not going to upset you or give you food poisoning and it contains carbohydrates and a bit of salt, which is perfect before a triathlon.” Gill Horgan, a dietitian in the school of sport and health science at St Mary’s University, Twickenham, says choose toppings carefully. “Athletes should opt for a thin base topped with tomato sauce, some lean fat such as turkey, and vegetables,” Horgan says.
We are not talking the butterscotch or toffee-trenched varieties here, of course, but plain or lightly salted popcorn which has value as a high carb snack. Air-popped and eaten plain, popcorn is a healthy whole grain food that is low in calories (about 30 per large handful) and relatively high in fibre (about 1g per serving).
It contains small amounts of vitamins and minerals, such as B6, magnesium and iron, although one study by the American Chemical Society a couple of years ago reported that it contains more of the healthful antioxidant substances called "polyphenols" than many fruits and vegetables.
Lead researcher, Dr Joe Vinson of the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania, also found the hulls of the popcorn – the hard bits that get stuck in your teeth – have the highest concentration of polyphenols and fibre. "Those hulls deserve more respect," said Vinson. "They are nutritional gold nuggets.”
This article was first published in Athletics Weekly. For more of the latest running and athletics news, plus performance features and much more, grab a copy of the magazine or check out www.athleticsweekly.com