The ABC of Sports Nutrition: Avocado, Beetroot, Coffee


, by Renee McGregor

A is for Avocado. Photography by: Krasula

Step into the world of nutrition with my ABC series, where we shine a spotlight on ingredients and foods that have captured attention in recent years. Through this collection of articles, I'll delve into the what's and whys of these culinary delights, while debunking common nutrition myths along the way.

A is for… Avocados

Over the last decade, we have seen the popularity of the avocado soar to almost superstardom status. While some care needs to be taken over overconsumption due to the potential environmental impact of its farming, there is no denying that this is probably one of the most nutrient-dense fruits you can consume.

For many years it was feared due to its high fat and energy content. The truth of the matter is that half an avocado provides you with 4g of dietary fiber; 120 micrograms of folate; 13mg of Vitamin C; 20% of your RDA for Vitamin E and 18g of mono-unsaturated fat- that is the type of fat we should be eating more of.

While fat should still be limited to no more than 30% of our total energy intake, increasing our intake of monounsaturated fatty acids is beneficial to both our health and waistlines. Studies have demonstrated that including more of these fats can have a protective capacity on our cardiovascular health. Similarly, it has been reported that eating more of these unsaturated fatty acids can aid appetite control and weight maintenance.

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For those of us who exercise regularly, there are further benefits.

When we exercise, some muscle damage is inevitable; while this is not necessarily always harmful, it can cause pain and lead to the muscle becoming more susceptible to injury. The high concentration of essential fatty acids and antioxidants Vitamin C and E in avocados encourage recovery and prevent muscle cell damage and fatigue.

Top nutrition tip: Try it as a snack drizzled with balsamic vinegar or how about mashed with some lime, chili flakes, and coriander as a topping for toast or oatcakes.

B is for… Beetroot

Photography by: Selena May

In recent years there has been much hype about the use of beetroot as a performance aid. This came about from original studies conducted back in 2010 that demonstrated that the high nitrate content of beetroot encouraged oxygen uptake by up to 16%, which has the potential for exercise performance benefits.

How?Physiological studies show us that when we are exercising at a high intensity in particular, oxygen supply becomes limited to our working muscles and causes a rise in acidity, resulting in fatigue and preventing us from maintaining this high-intensity pace.

Studies have since confirmed the positive results when 5mmol of nitrate is consumed daily 1-3 hours before training, 5 days leading up to a competition for any event that lasts between 3-36minutes, or in sports that involve multiple sprints such as football, netball, and rugby. The jury is out though about whether this effect is limited to those new to sports rather than veteran and elite athletes. Similarly, there are very mixed results in longer distance events such as the marathon.

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Regardless of this, one thing to be aware of is that to ensure you consume the right concentration of beetroot, you cannot rely on eating it alone. While there are many benefits to consuming beetroot, there is no way of knowing how much you need to eat to reach the optimal concentration.

Beetroot shots and juice have been developed with this in mind but they are an acquired taste.

Top nutrition tip: Try baking beetroot wedges with a mix of cumin and fennel seeds. When cool, toss these into a salad for added color and bite.

C is for… Coffee

Photography by: amenic181

Coffee is a well-established choice for many of us who are looking for a caffeine hit, but there seems to be much controversy around the effects of coffee - more specifically caffeine within day-to-day life.

In 2010 the International Society of Sports Nutrition produced a position paper demonstrating a link between caffeine and athletic performance. This has continued to be reinforced by many scientific studies suggesting caffeine can benefit athletes in a variety of ways; before, during, and after events.

Caffeine is known to combat fatigue by having an action on the central nervous system, lowering the perception of effort, allowing you to keep going at the same pace for longer, or being able to increase your pace as you’re perceiving the effort to be less.

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Best results occur with intakes of 3-5mg caffeine per Kg/body weight, one hour before exercise. Studies have concluded that there are no enhanced effects by taking doses above this level; in fact, too high an intake can have detrimental effects on performance.

In ultra-endurance events, there may be a benefit to consuming an additional 1-2mg caffeine per Kg/Body weight every 2 hours.

A study published in The Journal of Applied Physiology demonstrated that if caffeine was provided as a recovery drink in conjunction with carbohydrates, it improved glycogen restoration by up to 66% after 4 hours post-exercise, compared with just carbohydrates alone.

Top nutrition tip: Try a latte post-training to help with recovery and glycogen re-synthesis.

The ABCs of Sports Nutrition - the series

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