We train, and we train hard. And because we want to continue functioning at high levels of intensity, it’s important to acquire the knowledge and develop the habits that will allow us to stay healthy and strong for a long time to come. Good nutritional habits should be part of our practice.
Micro-injuries and adaptive micro-trauma, regeneration and regrowth are normal parts of high intensity, high impact exercise, and it’s important to learn how to nutritionally support this process effectively, so that our body’s repair systems have the raw materials needed to fix the daily wear and tear we put it through.
If our body doesn’t have the raw nutritional materials for repair readily at hand, these micro-injuries can accumulate, and areas of weakness can be susceptible to strain, tears, breakage and worse. From a nutritional science perspective, there are basic nutrients we need to armor up, as well as to repair and maintain any cracks in that armor.
Carbohydrates and Protein
When we’re concerned about weight loss, carbohydrates can be a significant issue, but to train hard, healthy carbs provide immediate energy, help keep blood sugar and insulin levels stable, and aid with the protein production that is critical for recovery. If training happens under chronic low blood sugar levels, then increased muscle wear may occur (as the body breaks down muscular proteins for energy), leading to decreases in strength and possible soft tissue damage.
A good rule of thumb is…outside of and during an intense training session, avoid simple carbohydrates (i.e. carbs from flour and sugar), and instead consume more low glycemic index carbs (‘slow carbs’) – like most fruits and vegetables, beans, minimally processed grains, low-fat dairy foods, and nuts.
Since muscle protein breaks down during strength and endurance training, it needs to be replaced by our body’s protein synthesis process. We need to consume more protein, and more of the building blocks of protein (particularly essential amino acids) to support this process.
Insufficient protein intake may well result in losses in strength and possible muscle damage due to decreased muscle mass. Nutritional sources of protein are abundant, and protein powder is an easy and inexpensive way to approach protein support and repletion.
It may sound unusual to think of fats as being part of a healthy diet, but the right fats have a critical anti-inflammatory effect – we’re talking about supporting hard training here. Reducing inflammation allows tissue repair to occur more rapidly, and helps prevent the accumulation of micro-injuries that lead to more substantial ones.
While one should avoid trans fats whenever possible, a balanced amount of dietary saturated, polyunsaturated, and monounsaturated fats in the diet is necessary. It may sound complicated, though it isn’t. Read the ingredients of any potential foodstuff, and if it has trans fats, toss it out (it’s nothing but bad for you). The standard American diet has plenty of saturated fat in it, so that just leaves adding more of the other types of unsaturated fats to our daily or weekly diets.
Great sources of unsaturated fat include oils such as olive, palm, coconut, and fish oil, ideally cold pressed and raw. Other simple dietary sources of healthy fats are nuts, especially walnuts and almonds; seeds, avocados, olives, nut butters, safflower oil, plain coconut or almond milk, and oily fish such as salmon. For folks who like to keep it simple, a daily supplement of fish oil is an easy way to help balance out your fats.
Minerals and Micronutrients
Lastly, we sweat out and use up a lot of minerals in training, and they need to be replenished. Zinc is critical for many of the biochemical pathways involved in utilizing nutrients and building new muscle, and zinc deficiencies are associated with poor wound healing. Copper and Vitamin C are needed to form new elastin – a critical components of our connective tissue, and Vitamin A assists in collagen formation. Connective tissue injuries take a long time to heal, so we want these tissues to be as strong as possible.
Further, calcium intake is necessary for strong and dense bones. Deficiencies in calcium can lead to osteoporosis, which results in brittle and easily fractured or broken bones. Low blood iron levels can also increase lactic acid production during exercise, which increases muscle soreness and inflammation, further reducing recovery time from exercise.
There are a lot of other exercise related micronutrients (vitamin E, Lipoic Acid, Potassium, and the other non-essential amino acids), and there is a whole world of sports nutrition and supplementation support for training, but these mentioned herein are some of the most critical. In short, a highly varied vegetable, fruit, and meat-based diet will support the body’s needs. Taking a good daily multivitamin to cover all the bases isn’t a bad idea either.
The key takeaway from all this is that fortifying the body with the components it needs to build and maintain strong bones, muscles, and connective tissue is critical to protecting the body from injury as well as sustaining an intense and challenging fitness regime.
Train smart, train hard.
Disclaimer: These are merely suggestions and should not be taken as medical or clinical advice. Talk to your doctor if you have any health issues or concerns.