Whether you are an individual who is relatively active and exercises 3-5 times per week doing cardio and strength training, or a higher-level endurance or strength athlete, specific nutrition guidelines should be considered.
However, the same rule applies for athletes and non-athletes alike, which are that whole-foods, organic, largely plant-based diet, should be followed. With this said, a very active individual will have varying carbohydrate, fat, and protein requirements. Something that is all too common in the world of athletics (or even just your average gym-goer), is that too many people depend on synthetic, refined, and processed “foods.” Examples of these food-like products include bars, protein powders (generally in the form of protein isolates), energy drinks, foods containing trans-fats, and low-quality, synthetic supplements.
Just think of the kinds of foods that are served at endurance event rest stops. Not to say there are no high quality energy bars or protein powders that can, at times, be helpful to a very active individual; however, the majority of these products are full of sugar, binders, preservatives, colorings, and artificial flavorings/sweeteners that undermine some of the very health benefit they claim to provide. Furthermore, many of the supplements (herbal and other) that are included in these foods, or sold separately, are synthetic versions of the herb, mineral, vitamin, or amino acid, and are not providing the same benefit of said nutrient in its original form.
Here are several nutrients (macro, micro, and phyto) to consider for the athlete:
While the average person (non-athlete) will generally require approximately 0.8 grams of protein per 1 kg. of body weight (and of course this varies person to person), an athlete will, in most cases, need more for muscle growth, repair, and preventing immune suppression (which is brought on by intense exercise).
According to Ed Bauman, PhD and author of Eating For Health: Your Guide to Vitality and Optimal Health, an athlete who moderately trains should strive for 1-1.4 grams/kg of body weight, an endurance athlete (endurance generally means aerobic activity for 90 minutes or more) should strive for approximately 1.8 g/kg, and an athlete engaging in intense strength (weight) training, may need up to 2.8 g/kg (this would be for a body-builder).
Dr. Bauman also notes that because protein has an acidifying affect on the body, it is crucial that an individual upping their protein intake also increase their consumption of alkalinizing vegetables (think dark, leafy greens and crunchy cruciferous veggies like cabbage, brussels-sprouts, and broccoli). Another way to alkalinize the acidifying effects of protein is to incorporate organic green powders into the diet in the form of smoothies. Protein should be eaten in the form of grass-fed meats, organic poultry, whole grains and legumes, eggs, cold-water fish, and organic, high-quality protein powders. Whey is a good choice if you can handle dairy, if not, try a rice, pea or hemp protein powder. Soy protein powders are typically highly processed, and best to avoid.
Micronutrient: Vitamin C
With increased aerobic and anaerobic activity, our body creates more free radicals, which are damaging to our cells, nerves, DNA, lipids and muscles. It is crucial that active people, particularly higher level athletes (both endurance and strength), are getting high amounts of antioxidants to counter these negative effects. While there are many antioxidants to incorporate (Vitamin C, E, A, Zinc, Selenium, and Flavanoids), Vitamin C is especially important. As with all nutrients, it is of much greater value to get these from foods, as our bodies can recognize and use the nutrients, rather than in supplement form where the nutrient is isolated and cannot be absorbed/utilized. Vitamin C-rich foods include papaya, red bell peppers, brussels sprouts, strawberries, oranges, lemons, cantaloupe, kiwi, cauliflower, and kale.
Ginseng is a powerful adaptogenic herb that has is used to increase vitality. According to holistic-guide.com, ginseng has been shown to have a powerful effect on the endocrine system, increasing physical endurance, mental clarity and energy, and increasing the absorption of nutrients in food. It has been used widely in the world of sports nutrition/performance; however, keep in mind that as with any supplement or herb, in its synthetic form (think 5-hour energy drinks), it loses much of its effectiveness, and it combined with potentially harmful ingredients.
Of course, proper sports nutrition and supplementation highly depends on the individual, the type of activity/exercise, fitness level and more, but these are a few safe and effective tips that most any active person can try! Listen to your body, and adjust accordingly.
*Disclaimer: This info is not intended to be a substitute for the medical advice of a licensed physician. Please consult with your doctor in any matters relating to your health.