An expert guide to achieving your best performance and recovery through nutrition. Written by Ryan Pinto, Sports Dietitian and the Head of Nutrition for South Sydney Rabbitohs and NSW Waratahs. He has a passion for helping athletes and motivated individuals to improve their nutritional intake to suit their performance goals.
1. Can we get all the nutrients we need from a healthy diet to perform at our best every day? Why do we need supplements and how does this differ for elite athletes?
Ideally, a healthy diet can provide you with all the vitamins and minerals required to perform at our best, however realistically, this is hard to achieve as our busy lifestyles tend to put nutrition on the backburner. Hence why supplements can assist us in meeting our daily vitamin and mineral requirements in a convenient way so that we can perform at our best even when sometimes our diet might not be at its best! Elite athletes have their own individual nutritional requirements due to their intense training regimes; so their dietary intake is adapted to suit their needs. However, even if they stick to a strict diet, they may still have some vitamin or mineral deficiencies, so supplements can be used to reduce this gap. The stress on the body of intense training also depletes nutrients in the body, and supplements can be helpful to aid recovery and replenish energy levels.
2. What do you see as the most important nutrients in your diet?
Apart from making sure a person’s diet is up to scratch with regards to protein, fat and carbohydrate, the main vitamin and mineral supplements to boost day-to-day energy are: Iron, Vitamin B12, Zinc, and Vitamin D. Being deficient in these may leave you feeling flat and tired.
3. What are your top 5 vitamins and mineral supplements for optimal performance and health?
If you are training:
- Iron – for increased energy and better athletic performance
- Vitamin B complex – B vitamins play a vital role in maintaining good health and well-being. They have a direct impact on your energy levels, brain function, and cell metabolism.
- A multi-strain probiotic – to promote the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut and therefore help improve immune function.
- Fish oil – to reduce inflammation in the body.
- Magnesium – to help your muscles relax but also to increase energy.
4. What are your top 5 tips to improve overall energy and performance?
- Ensure your diet is periodised to the activity levels of the day, which means adjusting the quantity and composition of your food intake according to your activity levels.
- Eat a wholefoods diet, which means minimising processed and packaged foods.
- Ensure you’re consuming enough protein daily and it’s distributed evenly across the day.
- Aim for 1.5-1.6 grams of protein per kilo of body weight, and divide that amount into 3-5 serves across the day. Also ensure your diet includes a diverse range of fruit and vegetables each day to maximise vitamin and mineral intake.
- Consume at least 25-30g of fibre per day to improve your gut health by maintaining a diverse microbiota and keeping you fuller for longer.
- Maintain optimal hydration levels by drinking water upon waking and around meals and snacks.
5. What do you see as the most important vitamins, minerals and nutrients to aid recovery?
- Protein – It’s the main source of fuel for your muscles. As an athlete, or even just someone who exercises regularly, if you’re not feeding you’re muscles you’ll get progressively sore and will find it more difficult to complete your training sessions.
- Magnesium – To help relax muscles and also support energy production.
- Fish Oil – To reduce inflammation in the body. Intense exercise causes increased inflammation in the body, and fish oil helps to manage this.
- B vitamins – For energy and to manage stress levels.
- Curcumin – During exercise, the joints and muscles take a beating. Curcumin acts as an anti-inflammatory and an antioxidant.
6. What are your top 5 recovery tips?
- Ensure you are consuming enough protein for your activity requirements and that it’s distributed evenly across the day.
- Consistently sleep for 7-9 hours per day.
- Stay hydrated by consuming 1.5mLs of water for each mL of fluid you’ve lost during exercise.
- Time your intake of carbohydrates around your training and exercise sessions to increase energy during exercise.
- Start active recovery – gentle movement 12-24hrs after exercise such as walking, stretching or going for a swim, which promotes circulation and the removal waste products from the muscle.
7. How do the needs for supplementation differ between men and women?Are there particular supplements that should be taken at different times of the year (ie: winter health and performance) or for different stages of life? Please explain.
- Macro and micronutrient requirements are now specifically tailored to individuals, consuming each macronutrient at a guideline of g/kg of bodyweight.
- Regarding micronutrients, women need to consume much larger amounts of iron and calcium compared to men due to their menstrual cycle and higher risk of osteoporosis.
- Vitamin D requirements are increased during the winter months due to our lack of sun exposure during this time. Generally, Australians tend to be vitamin D deficient throughout the year due to our lack of exposure to sunlight as a result of working indoors.
8. What type of exercises do you recommend for men and women? And how frequent?
From my experience, the best exercise for men and women is the type that they enjoy the most and can do consistently. Most people force themselves to take part in forms of exercise that they don’t like and as a result stop doing it. So, taking part in anything that they enjoy is the most important thing.
- Metabolically, intermittent exercise, such as a class at a gym, resistance training, team sports or watersports are the best. They help to increase your heart rate to a much higher rate compared to walking.
- Develop a routine that suits your lifestyle so that you can maintain it over the long term. Aim to exercise 3-4 times per week but vary the exercise type and intensity so your body continues to adapt.
9. What types of foods do you recommend pre-work-out/ post work-out?
Generally, a protein source around 90 minutes before and within an hour post workout. Along with this, a small source of medium- to low-GI carbohydrate for energy and mental clarity. Examples of this would be a high protein, low sugar Greek yoghurt with a piece of fruit; 3 wholegrain crackers with cream cheese and smoked salmon; or a couple of scrambled eggs plus a piece of fruit.
10. What’s the best way for someone to determine their nutritional needs?
Ideally, by consulting with a dietitian or nutrition professional with tertiary level qualifications in Nutrition. They will be able to identify your requirements based on your health status and develop a plan to suit your goals.
11. What are some behaviour changes you’d like to see amongst Australians?
To exercise more and to reduce the amount of processed foods they consume. A simple, wholefoods diet can prevent many conditions that most people believe are the result of old age.
12. What do you see as the biggest health challenges facing Australians?
Their work/life balance! Most people work so hard these days that they feel they need to reward themselves with food or alcohol. Unfortunately, although their life might be mentally stressful, it isn’t physically stressful. So, with food rewards, such as consuming regular takeaway food or eating out often, they become unhealthier and may start to gain body fat which may lead to the development of conditions such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Engaging in mediation or active stress relief forms of exercise will make a huge difference to their health or wellbeing.
13. Given what we know about the average Australian diet, which supplements do you think could have the greatest impact?
- As the average diet is not balanced most of the time, a fish oil supplement is a must. The anti-inflammatory effects of fish oil may help to reduce inflammatory-associated pain in the body.
- Most people don’t consume enough B-vitamins so a B-vitamin complex is great to assist with energy production and manage stress levels.
- Lastly, Magnesium, which most people don’t tend to consume enough of in their diets. Apart from relaxing muscles post exercise, magnesium assists with energy production, which will allow you to get through the day more easily.