A more complex definition of nutrition is that it is based on the biological processes of the body that convert food material into energy and/or living tissue. Or, to put it another way, how your body takes in food and absorbs the nutrients that are necessary for you to grow and be healthy.
Nutrition is what helps your body to function, so it is a really important part of a healthy lifestyle!
Why is good nutrition important?
To put it simply, without the proper nutrition, your body is unable to function at its best.
Good nutrition allows you to fuel your body and nourish it for growth and repair — something that you need to do every day, especially if you are training regularly.
When you’re eating a balanced range of vitamins and minerals, as well as getting plenty of energy from your food, this is good nutrition. Eating foods from all of the food groups is the best way to ensure a balanced, nutritionally rich diet.
These food groups include:
- Vegetables and legumes
- Lean meat, seafood, eggs and meat alternatives
- Dairy products and alternatives
- Fruit, and
- Healthy fats.
- Your nutritional requirements are unique to your body — especially if you have food sensitivities or intolerances to consider.
How does Nutrition affect exercise?
The muscles you engage during exercise, whether it’s cardio, resistance training or flexibility work, rely on the nutrition you provide them through your diet. Supplying your body with nutrients before you work out, after you work out and in the recovery period between workouts can impact the quality of your session and affect your fitness goals. In some cases, fuelling up during an exercise session can improve your results as well.
Protein for Strong Muscles: Your dietary protein serves several functions related to exercise. As the predominant component of muscle tissue, protein helps build new muscle fibres and repairs tissues damaged during your workout. Including sufficient high-quality protein in your daily diet – up to 2 grams for each kilogram you weigh – allows the increase in muscle mass that can, over time, boost your physical power during subsequent workouts. In addition, consuming protein that contains branched-chain amino acids, such as those found in the milk protein whey, can promote muscle recovery so you can work out again sooner.
Carbohydrates for Energy: Carbohydrates, both starches and sugars, provide the energy your muscles need to perform work. The carbohydrates you eat before you exercise not only burn as fuel but also accumulate in your muscles and liver as glycogen, a storage form of starch your muscles call on during exercise to keep them going. This nutrient is also important after you exercise, because intense physical activity depletes your glycogen stores. Replenishing glycogen during or following a workout speeds recovery in preparation for your next exercise session. Taking in between 1 and 1.5 grams of carbohydrates per kilogram of body weight soon after exercising helps maximise the process.
Vitamins and Minerals for Metabolism: Vitamins and minerals are involved in many of your body’s functions that come into play during exercise, such as energy production and muscle contraction. Lack of any of these nutrients can therefore affect your ability to work out as you would like to. For example, your blood cells carry oxygen that is bound to an iron-rich protein, and if your dietary iron is low, you may become easily winded and fatigued during exercise. Vitamin C can help you absorb iron, and a deficiency of this vitamin can indirectly affect your iron levels. Electrolytes, such as sodium, help maintain fluid balance in your cells by pulling in water, and too little sodium in your diet can lead to muscle cramps as you exercise.
Water for Hydration: Water is one of the most critical nutrients in exercise. Staying properly hydrated involves replacing the fluids you lose through sweating and heavy breathing. Hydration keeps your heart rate from climbing too high, which, in turn, helps regulate your body temperature. According to the American Council on Exercise, every time you lose a litre of fluid through sweat, your heart rate increases by eight beats per minute. If fluid loss continues, your core temperature can become dangerously elevated. Drinking plenty of water before, during and after exercise helps ensure you complete your workout so you can meet your fitness goals in a safe manner.