Three top nutrition trends and their impact on Sports Nutrition: Ketogenic Diet, Alternate Milks & Veganism

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Instagram. Google. Facebook. Television. Every day we are bombarded with information about food and nutrition. Not only can this be confusing! If we act on wrong information it can end up impacting negatively upon both our sports performance as well as our health.

Accredited Sports Dietitians are trained in best science and have to keep up to date to provide safe recommendations to the public about nutrition on a daily basis. About time you stopped listening to the girl on Instagram who tells you skinny tea to lean up or that to be a great athlete you have to be vegan? We think so! 

Today we share some recent health “trends” we seem to be seeing in common media and why this would potentially not be appropriate for athletes. Many of these are diet not lifestyle approaches which can be very unsustainable and unhealthy.

“There are no magic bullets when it comes to optimal performance, following the key fundamentals of sports nutrition through sound education and individual integration is what is going to set you up for success”

The Ketogenic Diet

The Ketogenic Diet is a low carbohydrate (<20g/day), high in fat and adequate protein diet. When the body is starved of carbohydrates it has to look for another source of energy, so the liver turns fats into “ketones” which can be used as energy. This diet was originally designed for epilepsy and has been commonly used to try and lose weight.

Why it doesn’t always work for athletes? 

Firstly, let’s think about how practical this actually is... 20g of carbs is as much as you find in banana. Day over after that – No more… cereal, fruit, milk, yoghurt, bread, pasta, chickpeas, lentils, crackers or yummy home-made protein balls. Suddenly we are also cutting out a bunch of different food groups and missing out on key micronutrients, compromising body function.

Additionally as athletes, your body NEEDS carbohydrates, especially for high intensity exercise. If there is none there at all we feel flat, have a greater risk of getting sick and lack energy to get the most out of our training.

Did I also mention that carbohydrates fuel our brain? As athletes we also be sharp with our attention and memory to assimilate information and improve our skill, technique and competition decision making.

Lastly: Keto is also low in fibre and can mess with our digestion leaving us feeling bloated and uncomfortable for training and competition.

Dairy vs. Alternate Milks 

I went to order a coffee the other day and was offered either skim, soy, almond or macadamia milk! With many new milks popping up in the supermarket, it seems everyone is getting curious.

The point stands that original dairy milk is still wholesome and appropriate for athletes as it provides calcium and phosphorus (for strong bones and teeth), protein (for recovery), iodine (for metabolism), potassium (for blood pressure regulation), and vitamins B2 and B12 (for brain function).

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Unfortunately many alternate milks are:

a)     Low in protein

b)    Low in calcium or not even fortified with calcium

We usually recommend skim, light milk or high protein milk to our athletes as it digests better when lower in fats. Remember that we recommend ~20g of protein within 30 minutes of exercise completion for recovery too, and dairy has the perfect blend of amino acids for repair.   

Plant Base Diets/Veganism 

It seems the modern world is started to gravitate towards many more plant-based options or diets. First of all, these diets can be great and adequate IF DONE CORRECTLY.

Typical vegan and vegetarian diets can make it harder sometimes to reach protein requirements for an athletes recovery, immunity and generating healthy hormones. It can also be a struggle to meet iron requirements. Iron is used to deliver oxygen from your lungs to tissues whilst exercising.

If you decide to follow a purely vegan diet, you can compromise other nutrient intakes such as B12 which is only found in animal-based foods. 

And guess what?! You can still increase your intake of plant-based foods to get healthy benefits such a high-amounts of fibre for gut function, immunity and vitality whilst you are eating meat. All it involves is a little creativity such as learning how to integrate things like chickpeas into your diet, trying some traditional dahl, or incorporating tofu into a meal or two every week.

Dietitian's are great with guidance in this area, so never be afraid to check in whether you are already vegetarian/vegan, considering a change OR just want to balance your diet with some more plant-based foods. It’s a great idea to make sure you are getting all the nutrition you need for your training evaluated by a professional. 

And there you have it! Three top nutrition trends/myths laid out with the right science so you can make informed decisions to make sure that nutrition is always supporting you to train and compete to the best of your ability.  

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