Although ensuring supplement safety is important for good health, supplements should only be used to correct nutrient deficiencies when dietary requirements cannot be met with food alone. With this in mind, everybody, especially elite/competitive athletes should always implement a food-first approach to optimise nutrient availability and sporting performance.Just like supplements, the highest quality of food should always be consumed. A diet that is sourced with a variety of natural and colourful foods is the best way to obtain all the nutrients the body needs to function optimally and stay healthy, whereas low-quality, heavily processed foods that are laden with added sugars, salt, vegetable oils and trans fats actually do more harm than good.
“Athletes should always implement a food-first approach to optimise sporting performance”
Refined foods (typically carbohydrates – grains and sugars) that undergo chemical processing have a lot of their nutrients and fibre removed but are still high in calories. Refined grains lose the majority of its vitamins, minerals and fibre when the bran and germ is removed from the grain, leaving a high-GI carbohydrate of little nutrient value. Such grains include white rice, bread and flour, crackers and pasta. Refined sugars include sweets, jellies, fizzy drinks, fruit juices, baked goods, sweet sauces, sweetened alcohol beverages, and most notably table sugar. These are all examples of ‘empty calories’ as they are highly calorific with no nutritional benefit.
Other processed foods include pre-cooked meats which have been modified to extend shelf life or the taste by adding preservatives, salt, sugars and oils. Processed meats are generally cheap to buy and have long shelf lives, especially if they come in a tin/jar. These include hot dogs, corned beef, bacon, sausages, frozen burgers/shaped meat products (everyone’s had a turkey dinosaur!), sandwich fillers etc.
For instance, a typical packet of ready-to-eat chicken fillets contains the following ingredients:
Chicken, Rice Flour, Potato Starch, Cornflour, Salt, Stabiliser (Sodium Triphosphate), Dextrose, Sugar, Rapeseed Oil.
This is also costs approx. £2. You’re much better off just cooking a whole chicken breast for health and financial reasons.
Diets with excessive intakes of sugar and processed foods are continuously linked with many health implications, especially heart disease, diabetes, obesity and cancer. Improve health by cutting out added sugars, excess fats from vegetable oils and preservatives from heavily processed foods, and eat a variety of naturally sourced, colourful foods.
“Organic crops may provide up to 60% more key antioxidants”
Organic foods may also provide enhanced concentrations of certain nutrients compared to non-organic alternatives. A recent study shows that organic milk contains up to 56% more omega 3 fatty acids than conventional bovine milk. It may also have greater concentrations of certain antioxidants and minerals such as iron, but negligible differences between most micronutrients. However organic milk did show to possess less selenium and iodine, so individuals with an underactive thyroid may benefit from bovine milk.
A research study also demonstrates that organic crops may provide up to 60% more key antioxidants than conventionally-grown crops. However nitrogen concentrations are significantly lower in organic vegetables, which may offer cardiovascular health benefits with very little risk, so the organic vs non-organic debate has its pros and cons.
Take home points
- Always apply a food-first approach
- Focus on naturally sourced whole foods and try to eat a rainbow a day
- Fruit and vegetables come in their own wrappers, so why eat something pre-made and heavily packaged? Eat locally sourced fruit and veg from greengrocers
- Protein foods should be purchased from local butchers/farms/fishmongers for highest quality, and processed foods should be avoided
- Organic foods may be better than conventional alternatives; milk in particular
- Wholegrain carbohydrates should be prioritised ahead of refined grains, and refined sugars offer no benefit and do more harm than good
- Excess vegetable oils found in processed foods/ready-made foods & sauces/take-aways should be restricted, and trans fats in margarines/baked foods should be avoided
- Correct your diet before resorting to supplements
- Any supplement you do take should be batch tested and certified by Informed-Sport
- Consult a professional before taking any supplementation/medication
- Be aware of WADA and any prohibited substances that you may be inadvertently taking
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Article by Danny Webber