Health & Fitness A sports dietician on what to eat to boost your energy and immunity
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Renee McGregor, leading sports dietician and founder of TrainBrave, gives you the lowdown on maintaining your natural energy and immunity.
Different types of exercise require different nutrition.
‘After training you want to get a good mix of carbs and protein. If you have done a long endurance or high-intensity workout you need to aim for 1.2-1.5g of carbs per kg of bodyweight and 0.4g of protein in the immediate phase after training. If your session has been shorter and less intense, aim for 1g per Kg/BW carbs and 0.4g of protein within 30 minutes of finishing your session. This can be your next meal or if it is not a mealtime choose a suitable snack. Some good options include a bagel with poached eggs, baked potato with tuna or 300ml flavoured milk and cereal bar, whey shake made with cows milk or vegan protein shake made with oat milk and banana.”
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Stay hydrated for natural immunity.
‘Saliva is your first line of defence so if you are dehydrated, you tend not to produce as much saliva. Ensure a balanced varied diet, especially including complex carbohydrates, as these are important for maintaining a healthy immune system. Keep on top of iron and vitamin D particularly.”
Active women need to eat slightly differently for natural energy and immunity
‘The main thing women need to be aware of is that their appetite and nutritional composition may change through the month due to hormonal influences of their menstrual cycle. So, during the follicular phase, which is roughly day 1-15, where day 1 is the first day of your cycle, you may have higher iron requirements due to blood loss. Similarly, you would benefit from taking foods high in essential fatty acids to reduce inflammation associated with your period.
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‘During the second half of your cycle, the luteal phase (day 16-28), progesterone is dominant and this means that your requirements, especially carbohydrate requirements, go up. Blood sugars can be more volatile and fluctuate so it is recommended that you eat little and often, consuming a good mix of complex carbs with protein and/or essential fats.’
There are several key micronutrients required for a healthy immunity.
‘In general, the key micronutrients that active individuals need in their diet are not so different from those required in general to maintain a healthy body. Probably the most important with regards to immunity will be vitamin D, vitamin C, vitamin B12, iron and calcium.
Ensuring that you consume a varied and balanced diet that includes complex carbohydrate, particularly whole grains, lean meat and plant-based sources of proteins including pulses, tofu, a mix of colours and varieties for vegetables and salads, dairy or soya alternatives and essential fatty acids, including avocados, oily fish, nuts and seeds, is how you can incorporate these micronutrients into your diet.”
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Iron is an essential.
‘Iron is a key nutrient required to maintain a healthy immune system. When our haemoglobin and ferritin, iron stores, are low this can result in depressing our immune system and make us more susceptible to illness and infection.
The best sources of iron are red meat, but more and more people are avoiding this for health reasons. Eggs are also a great source of iron. Plant based options include fortified cereals, beans, wholegrain carbohydrate, green leafy vegetables and some nuts but these need to be combined with a vitamin C for best absorption.
Eat regularly to keep your energy levels up.
‘Don’t leave gaps longer than 4 hours, which may mean eating one or two snacks in addition to your three meals. With snacks, ensure a good mix of complex carbs with either fat or protein eg oatcakes with peanut butter, houmous and veggies or a fruit and yoghurt smoothie.”
‘Most people will probably need to eat two hours before they train to ensure their food has digested. If you are doing an activity that is going to last more than 90 minutes, you will also need to consider taking on some nutrition during your session and then, ideally, we encourage individuals to recover within 20-30 minutes of completing their session. This could be your next meal but if this is not a mealtime, then use an appropriate recovery snack/drink.’
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Vegans and vegetarians should watch their diet carefully to maintain energy and immunity.
‘The key thing is being mindful of your iron and B12 requirements as these can be difficult to obtain through a plant-based diet due to lower bioavailability and poor absorption. Vegans should ensure they consume vitamin C with plant-based options of iron rich foods, to help with absorption.
‘In addition, a plant-based diet can also be very voluminous and high in fibre but low in energy. If there is chronic low-energy availability, this can lead to a reduction in the production of red blood cells.
Active people shouldn’t skimp on carbohydrates.
‘Especially around your training; carbohydrate availability is really important for ensuring that you have sufficient energy for your training but also that there is enough energy to allow for the hormonal cascade required to adapt and progress from your sport.’
Renee was speaking to Spatone liquid iron, which contains naturally occuring, iron-rich water sourced from Snowdonia National Park. Available in 14- and 28-day packs, Spatone is available from Boots, Holland & Barrett and. For more info visit
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