Sports nutrition for beginners
Every sport makes different demands on the body. Whether you're out to build muscle, increase flexibility or just get fit, kick-start your plan with the right diet...
Running is great for calorie burning, but if you're new to pounding the pavements, take it easy as injury is common in new runners. Your knees take the strain of 4-8 times your own body weight at every foot strike, so muscles and joints need time to strengthen. Follow a gradual training plan and give your body all the nutrients it needs to fuel, repair and strengthen. For runs of under an hour, you don't need to change your diet radically. Aim for a well-balanced diet based around starchy carbohydrates such as wholegrain bread, pasta, potatoes and rice, protein from meat and other non-meat sources such as beans and eggs, some milk and dairy foods, plus plenty of fruit and vegetables.
For runs of over 60 - 90 minutes you'll need to adapt your diet at different stages of your training to include more energy-giving carbohydrates and muscle-repairing protein. Take a look at our marathon and race day foods blogs for more on endurance sports nutrition.
Swimming is a great all-round exercise, which works all the body's major muscle groups. Non-weight bearing, it's gentle on the joints too, so it's ideal for anyone recovering from injury. A simple well-balanced diet is all your body needs for low-impact swimming of under 90 minutes. Light meals are best just before a swim to avoid feeling bloated and aid digestion. Water has that curious effect of making you feel famished, so watch you don't undo all your hard work when you step out of the pool with bad foods. Instead keep a healthy snack on hand or whizz up a nutritious smoothie.
If you want to step up the intensity or endurance of your swim, your body will need more energy in the form of carbohydrates. Think slow-release low-GI carbs like wholewheat pasta and bread in the lead up to a swim and fast-release carbs like a banana, jellybeans or isotonic sports drinks just before a race (or during, if you can). Add in muscle-repairing protein such as chicken, tuna, yogurt or milk after an intense session.
Carbs for cardio workouts: Wholegrain bread, brown rice, quinoa, raisins & other dried fruits, bananas, apples and beans.
Pilates and yoga
Pilates and yoga help develop muscle flexibility and can correct postural problems. Regularly stretching out your muscles helps to prevent injuries you might incur from other sports, too. Help your muscles along by drinking plenty of water, packing in the fresh fruits, vegetables and oily fish and limiting your salt intake - common in processed foods - as it can lead to fluid retention around the joints. Calcium, magnesium and vitamins C and D can help particularly with musculoskeletal health.
As you progress you'll get more of an aerobic workout, building a healthy heart and lungs. Nourish your body with energy-giving carbs and muscle-replenishing protein as part of a well-balanced diet, and you won't go far wrong.
Flexibility-enhancing foods: Green vegetables, citrus fruits, oily fish.
Strength training activities
Strength training (doing free weight and resistance machine exercises or classes such as Bodypump at the gym) doesn't have to mean building biceps like Popeye. Building lean muscle tissue, coupled with regular cardio activity, is also a good way to lose weight. Whether your aim is to bulk up, get stronger or just tone up, a strength training diet needs to include enough energy to enable your body to make muscle. Carbs and protein are the key nutrients, with protein helping to repair damaged muscle fibres and bulk up the muscle tissue. It's thought a small carb plus protein meal such as a low-fat milkshake or fruit yoghurt just before and after a workout can enhance resistance-training performance.
Muscle-building protein is the golden ingredient when it comes to resistance training, but unless you're a bodybuilder you only need moderate amounts in your diet. Your energy should still come from carbohydrates, so include high-quality proteins, adequate carbohydrates plus a dose of heart-healthy fats in your diet.
Protein foods for strength training : Lean meat, poultry and fish, eggs, low-fat milk, yogurt and cheese, lentils and black beans.
Are you taking up a new sport or setting yourself fitness goals? Leave us your comments below...
Katie Hiscock is a fitness writer with diplomas in personal training and sports massage therapy. With an interest in sports nutrition, antenatal exercise and injury prevention, she works as a therapist for Brighton & Hove Albion.