Introduction

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Hello,
My name is Kevin Beasley and I’m a performance nutritionist. I have worked with inter-county Gaelic football teams (male and female) at both senior and underage levels for the past eight years. I also have vast experience of working with clients from a variety of different sports.
If you are someone who enjoys working out but can’t get to the gym now because of the current lock-down, you may be fretting over your nutrition. You may be unsure over what you should be eating due to reduced training intensity or frequency. However, there are some easy steps you can take to remain in good shape, maintain a good body composition and most importantly remain healthy.

In my previous post I covered some of the more basic concepts in sports nutrition – energy balance and the macro-nutrients (carbohydrate, protein and fats). If you haven’t already read the post, you will find it here. In this second section, we will focus more on the micro-nutrients (vitamins and minerals) and their importance for health and performance.

Micro-Nutrients (Vitamins and Minerals)

Whereas macro-nutrients are the nutrients we need to eat in large quantities (100s of grams), micro-nutrients are nutrients we need to eat in smaller quantities (e.g grams, thousands of a gram or millionths of a gram). However, just because we need small amounts of these nutrients doesn’t mean they aren’t important.

Micro-nutrients are required by our bodies for a wide variety of uses that have implications for health and performance. Examples:

  • Low levels of iron can lead to anaemia, tiredness and reduced performance.
  • The B family of vitamins (B1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 8, 9, 12), as well as Vitamin C, iron, magnesium and zinc are involved in energy production.
  • Calcium and Vitamin D are required for strong bones.

There are hundreds of further examples that could be listed. Suffice to say they are required for the smooth running and optimal functioning of our bodies.

Deficiencies

Many health or performance issues can be affected by micro-nutrient deficiencies. Basically, this is when we aren’t consuming enough of a particular nutrient and your body doesn’t have enough of it. This can happen for a number of reasons:

  1. Diet high in processed foods and/or lack of whole fruits, vegetables and other whole foods in the diet.
  2. Under-eating – not consuming enough food for our activity levels.
  3. Anti-nutrients – consuming foods or fluids that block our ability to absorb foods. For example, tea contains tannins, and high consumption of tea can block iron absorption.
  4. Disease – inability of our bodies to absorb the nutrients we eat. Examples are celiac disease and cystic fibrosis.

For most people, factor #1 is the pre-cursor for micro-nutrient deficiency. For athletes, #2 can also be a factor.

Supplementation

Is vitamin and mineral supplementation required? Short answer – it depends. If you have sufficient vitamin and mineral intake through eating a diet high in fresh and whole foods, probably not. Studies have shown that supplementing to boost your bodies vitamin and mineral stores above what your body requires doesn’t provide any additional benefits.

Indeed, having too much of a good thing can actual be harmful! Taking high doses of Vitamin C and E can impair or blunt training adaptations, especially for endurance athletes. The fat soluble vitamins (A, D, E, K) can be stored in your bodies fat cells. Prolonged supplementation can cause a build up in levels of these vitamins in fat stores. If supplementing for a long period of time at a high dose, this can lead to a condition called hyper-vitaminosis, which can be harmful.

The only way you can be sure if you are deficient is to have a blood test. In the current environment, with our health services stretched, this is not a viable option. The best option is to focus on your diet, which will give you everything you need in the right amounts.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is called the sunshine vitamin, and our skin makes it when exposed to sunlight. Our bodies have an amazing ability to self regulate. Your skin will make enough vitamin D with repeated exposure to sunshine. Once you have the required level of vitamin D, your skin will stop making it, even with continued sunlight exposure.

Vitamin D deficiency is common place in Ireland during the winter months due to:

  • Short days
  • Weak sunlight, clouds
  • People are wrapped up when they go out
  • People spend more time indoors.

Most foods are low in Vitamin D. In the absence of sunshine, most people in Ireland may have to supplement during the Winter months to keep their Vitamin D levels at an acceptable level.

However, spring is here. A quick and easy solution is available to boost your low Vitamin D levels and it doesn’t require supplementation. With longer days and the weather finally improving, get outside (respecting the 2km zone and social distancing) and get 15-20 minutes of sunlight per day. Wear shorts and t-shirt (weather permitting). This will naturally boost your Vitamin D levels without having to supplement.

Pro-biotics

We are well aware of the impact of virus and bacteria on our health. However, we need bacteria for our bodies to function optimally. We have 1 trillion bacteria living in our colon and they play a huge role in our health:

  • Repairing the lining of our gut wall, keeping it in good working order
  • Forms part of our immune system – 70% of our immune system is located in our gut.
  • Synthesizes vitamins – bacteria in your gut help to make Vitamin K which is important for blood clotting and bone health.

Many foods are now on the market to help to boost our gut bacteria. These include:

  • Kefir 
  • Kombucha
  • Pickled foods
  • Yogurts

Consuming these products on a regular basis will help to keep the bacteria levels in our gut healthy. Our gut bacteria also respond to our diets. If you think of bacteria as two populations:

  1. Good, healthy, helpful bacteria
  2. Bad, unhealthy, harmful bacteria.

Eating a diet high in natural foods is beneficial for our healthy bacteria. They thrive when you eat lots of fibre, whole fruits, vegetables, dairy products and lean protein. Eating a diet high in processed foods cause the unhealthy bacteria to become more populous and they kick out the healthy bacteria. If this happens, they will cause damage to your gut lining, and this can lead to chronic inflammation. This chronic inflammation can lead to diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, cardiovascular disease and Chrons disease. It’s vital that you eat the right kinds of foods to keep your healthy bacteria on top.

Polyphenols

Polyphenols are compounds found in fruit, vegetables and other foods that play a major role in our health. They help to protect our bodies against cancer, neuro-degenerative and cardiovascular disease. Polyphenols are the compounds that give our food it’s colour – why spinach is green, why a banana is yellow and why an orange is…well…orange. You may have heard a saying – “Eat the colour of the rainbow”. By eating foods of many different colours, we are getting a wide variety of polyphenols (and vitamins and minerals) in our diet.

Foods high in polyphenols include:

  • Whole fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Whole nuts
  • Beans
  • Cocoa powder and dark chocolate
  • Spices and seasonings

As you can see, most foods that are high in polyphenols are also high in viatmins and minerals, so you don’t have to go out of your way to include them in your diet. Eating polyphenol containing foods help to keep us healthy and allow us to train properly. If we’re sick, we can’t train!

Conclusion

While sometimes as athletes we focus too much on calories, carbohydrate, protein and fat, it is vital that we also look after our micro-nutrient intake.

This can be easily achieved by eating whole fruits, adding in vegetables where appropriate, adding spices to foods and getting a regular supply of pro-biotics in our diet. By doing this, we are reducing our risk of illness, keeping ourselves healthy and giving our body the materials it needs to function properly. This will have an impact on the quality of your training and ultimately your performance.

Please check in next week as I will be posting another blog on sports nutrition.

If you have any questions, please email me at: kevin@metabolise.ie

Check out my website and my YouTube channel which I update regularly with cooking demonstrations and recipes. I also have videos from Kerry footballing greats discussing the importance of sports nutrition.

Subscribe to my YouTube channel and get a notification every time I post a new video.

Finally, check out my blog for further posts on sports nutrition related topics.

Stay safe everyone, wash your hands regularly and practice physical distancing!

Kevin