Does, Real Food, Whole Food Nutrition Increase Performance and Recovery in Sport?

Cycle, Run, Swim, Hike or Gym! Perform better and recover faster with real food

When you’ve got gains to hit with your workout, you’re looking to improve your speed on the road or track, or your endurance out on the hills and trails, what you eat is a big deal, and can make the difference between hitting the wall, and smashing out a new personal best. 

It’s pretty well known that we need calories for energy, and protein for recovery and growth, but there’s a whole lot more to optimising your diet to support your physical fitness and performance.


Are natural sugars best for lasting energy?

Calories means energy, but not all calories are alike, and especially when it comes to getting active. What can appear as the most obvious options come with some pretty significant disadvantages. 

Sports nutrition products like energy gels and energy drinks which, are promoted on the basis of being specially developed for sports - even natural energy gels - mostly contain a lot of highly processed, refined sugars. These simple sugars are easily absorbed and have an almost immediate impact on your blood sugar. This means that they provide a quick source of energy that gives you an immediate boost, but there’s a downside to quick absorption too. When your blood sugar rises, your body releases insulin to help your cells absorb the sugars and to keep blood sugars within the appropriate range, but our body systems developed in a world without super-refined sugars and their not set up to deal with them, the result is that our natural systems tend to overcompensates. Once that immediate hit wears off, it’s common to experience a dramatic sugar crash. This sugar crash can leave you feeling prematurely fatigued and hungry, even if you’ve only just eaten.


How do I avoid a sugar crash? 

The symptoms of a sugar crash aren't very nice at the best of times, a sugar crash will leave you feeling exhausted; physically tired, mentally drained and unable to concentrate. To avoid a sugar crash and to get the best out of ourselves in terms of endurance, we need to focus our diets on foods containing slow-release carbohydrates, these are best sourced through quality foods in their natural state, where the sugars are bound in the structure of the food and therefore take time to break down. Fruits, nuts, seeds, vegetables and other whole foods will provide long-lasting, slow-release energy, without risking a sugar crash. 

A lot of sports people complain that energy gels and energy drinks taste sickly and synthetic, and can cause indigestion. With whole foods you shouldn't encounter any of these issues, sticking to quality whole foods gives you a great range of delicious options that you can experiment with, finding the combinations you love, and that work best for you.

Sweets like Haribo contain refined sugar. Dried fruits contain natural sugar that is slower release.

Why real food nutrition is better for performance and recovery

When you’re pushing your body to do more, it’s important that you up your intake of vitamins and minerals too. In particular, water-based vitamins - including vitamin C and the whole complex of B vitamins - can be flushed out by the higher intake of liquids that naturally goes along with all exercise. If you're involved in endurance events or team sports that take place over extended periods of time, you're likely to sweat more, so packing in extra nutrition is all the more important. Vitamins are so fundamental to all aspects of health that it’s hard to point to one or even a few implications of running deficiencies, but any kind of deficiency will likely leave you feeling easily fatigued, slow to recover and vulnerable to illness that will disrupt training and can set you back weeks or months on hitting performance goals. 

The best kind of sports nutrition comes from real foods. While synthetic supplements - as used in  standard multi-vitamins, fortified foods and meal replacements - appear to counter deficiency, they’ve been proven not to function in the same way within the body. Synthetic supplements are less bioavailable and don’t provide the long-term health benefits that natural, food-derived nutrients do, some can even be damaging to your health, and the higher doses that synthetic-based supplements make available can cause serious damage [1]. So for many reasons, sticking to whole food nutrition, from natural sources is best.


Reducing inflammation increases recovery; functional foods and plant-based diets

One of the results of strain on the body is inflammation, and reducing this inflammation can help speed up recovery. 

Among functional foods turmeric has been found to act as a strong anti-inflammatory [2], therefore including turmeric in your diet can be used to improve recovery, helping you get back to training as soon as possible. Nutrition is important too, as are omega 3 fatty acids which can be found in oily fish, and in plant-based sources such as hemp seeds and some nuts. 

At the more general, dietary level, many people find that a plant-based diet can help reduce inflammation and improve recovery too. 

In this video interview, Scott Jurek - one of, if not the greatest ultra-marathon runner of all time - discusses his reasons for maintaining a plant-based diet, he identifies fast recovery as the most noticeable performance benefit to be gained from following vegan or vegetarianism.

Turmeric, Ginseng and other functional foods for endurance sports

Functional foods are those that have health advantages beyond just their nutritional content, they offer something special beyond their value as food. 

Functional foods including maca and ginseng are thought to increase physical endurance and to boost energy levels. Turmeric has a particularly interesting double function, it’s thought to boost endurance and recovery by reducing inflammation, but it also appears to have a psychological function too. Academic studying sports psychology have found that turmeric, or the active ingredient, turmeric curcumin, can make it easier to deal with the stress and discomfort of pushing yourself beyond your normal limits of performance [3].


Why does protein matter so much?

Protein plays an incredibly important role in the process of building and maintaining fitness. 

Your body uses dietary protein to rebuild and repair muscles and other tissues following the strain of exercise. It’s generally accepted that the window for getting in good quality protein following a training session or event, in order to maximise recovery is about 20-40 minutes, so accessing good protein should be a key aspect of your post-workout routine.

Quality of protein is just as important as quantity and timing, specifically it’s the amino acid content that matters. There are 12 amino acids in all, but 9 which are referred to as ‘essential’, this means they can’t be made within the body, so you need to get them through your diet. While many animal products or animal product derived protein powders or protein bars contain ‘complete protein’ - whey protein for example - many plant sources lack one or more of the essential amino acids, so if you’re trying to reduce your intake of animal products for either performance or wider health or ethical reasons, then you need to be a bit more careful about the quality of the source. For vegan runners, vegan body builders, vegan weightlifters and vegan or vegetarian athletes, whatever your discipline, hemp seed protein and pea protein in particular offer good quality, complete protein that's also plant-based.


Summary - How Human Food can help you perform and recover better

  1. Up your nutrition - Human Food contains 100% RI of both Vitamin B12 and in the Orange and Cashew Bar, Vitamin C. Each super-convenient, delicious bar also contains over 50% RI of 10 other essential micronutrients. 
  2. Be sure to get enough quality protein - Human Food bars use a range of wholefood ingredients to make sure that our bars offer a good helping of complete, plant-based protein, around 14g per bar. 
  3. Take advantage of functional foods - Human Food contain a whole load of functional ingredients, including turmeric, maca, ginseng, acerola, hemp seeds and cocoa. A bar before training or an event, and specifically a Turmeric and Mulberry bar as part of your recovery routine is an easy way to access these functional benefits.
  4. Focus on complex carbohydrates to avoid the sugar crash -  Human Food bars are great for sports. Whole food ingredients like nuts, seeds, berries, dried fruits and oats are processed slowly by the digestive system, giving long-lasting energy and improved endurance without the sugar crash. 

[1] Chen, F. Association among dietary supplement use, nutrient intake and mortality among U.S. adults; A cohort study, Annals of internal medicine, May 2019

[2] Suhett, LG et al. Effects of Curcumin supplementation on sport and physical exercise; a systematic review. 04/20

[3] Suhett, LG et al. Effects of Curcumin supplementation on sport and physical exercise; a systematic review. 04/20


June 23, 2022
Tags: Article