Busy mum-of-two, fitness professional and qualified naturopathic nutritional therapist Ruth Harries explains why eating like a champion is not only reserved for the elite…
YOU don’t need to be an Olympian to see the appeal of having a specialist nutritionist on hand to devise menus, source provisions and prepare meals that are tailored to fuel your sporting ambitions. Unfortunately, few household budgets and diaries allow for such a luxury and the challenge of going solo and serving up snacks and dinners that deliver winning performances for you or a loved one can seem daunting.
The good news is that readying your body for training and tournaments is not as complicated as it might initially seem. A balanced diet of carbohydrates, fats and protein – supplemented by a rainbow of vegetables and fruits – will provide karateka with the vitamins, minerals and antioxidants they need to maintain energy levels, recover and repair.
Worried your fridge and food cupboards are not up to the task? Fear not, let’s take a closer look at the reality behind the technical terms…
Pre- and during workout snacks
Carbohydrates are a key source of fuel for exercise and quick-release options eaten up to 30 minutes before and during lengthy training sessions and competitions will ensure athletes remain energetic without feeling overfull – a sensation common with those who suffer from pre-tournament nerves, which can make digestion difficult.
Fruits are an excellent choice, which is why you often see tennis players devouring a banana courtside, and can cater for most tastes. For example, dried fruit is a simple and portable snack solution and the slightly sweeter flavours often appeal to young athletes.
Don’t feel the need to always resort to raisins though – mango, banana and dates are satisfying substitutes. The only downside of going “dried” is the high sugar content, so portion control needs to be exercised.
Similarly, smoothies are easy to digest, usually a firm favourite with children and can be personalised to suit any likes and dislikes. I like to keep pre-chopped fruit in food bags in the freezer so that quickly throwing things into a blender is not a burden. The options are endless, although a banana, handful of berries and an apple is a winning mix!
You can also sneak in some green vegetables such as spinach or broccoli but, if you have a 10-year-old like my own who is equipped with a well-honed veg detector, I’d advise starting small.
Shops are awash with energy balls and while adding packs to your supermarket trolley may be convenient, opting for homemade is a far cheaper alternative. Delicious and a great source of energy, my simple recipe (see below) only takes five minutes to follow and the omega 3 in the chia seeds delivers a dose of essential dietary fat and an anti-inflammatory boost.
If you are looking for an off-the-shelf answer then malt loaf is high in energy and easy to stash in a kit bag.
Protein – made up of building blocks known as amino acids – is essential for strengthening and the recovery and repair of the human body and should be part of any post-workout refuelling. Combining carbohydrates with protein further improves the process of repairing and building muscle.
Ideally, a karateka should eat something within 30 minutes of coming off the mats and then have a proper meal within a couple of hours.
Again, catering for this need is not overly complex. An hard-boiled egg, for example, is simple to prepare, portable, contains all the essential amino acids we need and can be eaten alone or smashed up inside half a wholemeal pitta.
With chickpeas rich in protein, hummus and veg sticks are a great thing to devour after the dojo. There is nothing wrong with shop-bought hummus but you can easily make it yourself by blitzing a can of rinsed chickpeas with one teaspoon of olive oil, two tablespoons of tahini, one clove of garlic and the juice of one lemon until smooth. Add a little water if your mix is too thick and throw in spices like paprika or cumin if you want to add a bit of heat to your hummus.
Don’t fancy anything savoury? Not to worry, chocolate milk can deliver the same effects and is always a popular choice in my household. Ready-made options are usually unhealthily high in sugar so I’d recommend blending a banana, one tablespoon of cocoa powder and 250ml of milk for a delicious hit of protein, carbs and calcium.
Finally, nut butters have become increasingly popular and when combined with fruit are a fantastic boost. Slices of apple and pear are ideal for dipping, while bananas taste great when spread with the butter. One note of caution – when buying ensure you check the ingredients as some of the cheaper brands add significant amounts of sugar.
BALLS OF ENERGY
Prep time: Ready in a matter of minutes.
Ingredients: 50g oats, 25g chia seeds, 85g dried dates, 2 tbsp. cocoa powder, half tsp vanilla extract.
Method: Put everything in a blender and mix together before adding 2-4 tbsp of water to bind and then shaping into ping pong-sized balls.
Benefits: Other than an opportunity to make a mess and eat cocoa? A healthy shot of fat and an anti-inflammatory boost.