By now you know that physical activity or exercise can improve your health. But, physical training does come with risks, and it’s important to understand the vital role that nutrition plays in sports recovery.
“Dedication to your training needs to go hand-in-hand with being equally committed to recovering from your exertions using the right nutrition techniques, “says Maretha Vermaak, a registered dietitian at Rediscover Dairy.
She offers the following advice:
Make sure you eat enough – When you don’t eat enough but you do exercise a lot, your body won’t have enough energy to sustain normal bodily processes. When this happens, you’ll find that you may be getting sick all the time, struggle to recover from your workouts and may find it harder to keep up your performance. Include a variety of foods in your daily diet to provide sufficient energy for your level of activity. Consuming nutrient-rich foods in your diet may also have other added health benefits. An example of a nutrient-rich snack is having plain yoghurt with fruit or a piece of cheese. Avoid nutrient-poor options by limiting the amount of highly processed foods, those with added sugar, salt and fat, in your diet and focusing instead on fresh or minimally processed options, like fresh fruits, vegetables and milk.
Rehydrate properly – If you sweat when you’re exercising or if you are training in the heat, you may lose more water and electrolytes such as potassium and sodium than you take in. A good way to gauge if you are losing too much fluid during exercise is to weigh yourself before and after a training session. If you have lost more than 2 per cent of your body weight, you need to focus more on your rehydration strategy.
In general, you want to do the following:
- Drink to thirst leading up to your session. But also drink, even if you are not thirsty.
- Drink small amounts of fluid, 150 to 300ml every 15 to 20 minutes during your session.
If you drank enough before and during your workout, you’ll have maintained your weight. If this is the case, then you can just drink to thirst for the rest of the day. If you lost weight and need to replace it, it’s recommended that you drink 1 to 1.5 L, which is 4 to 6 cups of fluid per kg of weight you lost. Water is a good choice, but it may be wise to include sources that contain some electrolytes like milk or sports drinks.
Eat enough protein to repair your muscles – “Protein forms the building blocks of all the cells and tissues in your body, including your muscles”, says registered dietitian, Abby Courtenay. Including a protein-rich meal soon after training can specifically help with muscle recovery from that session. In general, you want to try to eat every three to five hours and include about 20-25 g of protein per meal.
You can get approximately 20g of protein from the following food sources:
- 600ml low-fat milk or flavoured milk; 60g cheese; 2 extra-large eggs; 50g biltong
Some research has shown that pairing carbohydrate-containing fluid and protein can enhance muscle recovery and potentially reduce muscle soreness and tiredness. So, if this is a problem that you find yourself struggling with, liquid protein sources like milk or flavoured milk may be a better option for you.
Recovery nutrition on a budget – Dr Hester Vermeulen, a specialist in consumer economics at the Bureau for Food and Agricultural Policy (BFAP) recommends the following top, affordable snacks and light meals for athletes:
200g baked potato topped with 40g cheese at an estimated R6.68 – providing:
- 14.5g /14 per cent protein; 46.3g /11 per cent carbohydrates; 13.1g /16 per cent fat, and 4.8g /16 per cent dietary fibre
500ml DIY flavoured low-fat milk containing six teaspoons flavour powder at an estimated R8.94 – providing:
- 16.5g /16 per cent protein; 45.3g /11 per cent carbohydrates; 10.0g /12 per cent fat
2 X 330ml commercial flavoured milk at an estimated R25.14 – providing:
- 19.8g /19 per cent protein; 59.4g /14 per cent carbohydrates; 12.5g /15 per cent fat, and 7.9g / 26 per cent dietary fibre
80g 2-slices brown bread cheese sandwich containing 40g of cheese and 150g fruit at an estimated R10.30 – providing:
- 17.1g /16 per cent protein; 35.1g /8 per cent carbohydrates; 14.0g /17 per cent fat, and 4.4g /15 per cent dietary fibre
Banana and milk combo comprising of 500ml low-fat milk and 150g bananas at an estimated R11.18 – providing:
- 18.5g /18 per cent protein; 52.7g /13 per cent carbohydrates; 10.5g /12 per cent fat, and 2.6g /9 per cent dietary fibre
Shopping tips to help you eat healthily on a budget:
- Plan your meals, snacks and grocery shopping in advance to avoid impulse shopping behaviour, overspending and poor food choices.
- Where possible, purchase larger pack sizes that are more economically priced. However, it is important to ensure that you store products correctly and safely at home.
- Shop seasonal foods, especially when it comes to fresh produce.
- Be brand-savvy – explore the quality and value-for-money of generic brands.
- Look for specials and shop around between retail outlets.
- Try to focus on home-prepared meals and snacks and avoid processed foods as far as possible.
Download a copy of the ‘Sport nutrition and the role of dairy’ booklet here.
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