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This article appeared in the West Australian newspaper, Mind & Body lift out on April 20 2010.
As an athlete our bodies can get run down from exercise undertaken on top of our usual daily activities, so our bodies need to be in tip top shape to cope with the extra pressure. Generally supplements are not required if the diet is carefully considered and well balanced. Eating a nutritious diet will provide sufficient carbohydrate, adequate protein, plus all the vitamins and minerals the body needs, to help support the immune system and keep the body in great shape.
Iron is essential for carrying oxygen around the blood and delivering it to the muscles. Athletes require more iron due to muscles needing greater oxygenation while working. Plus there is blood cell damage through pressure on the feet while running. Females are more at risk of low iron levels due to blood losses. The best way to increase iron levels is by increasing red meat intake, other good sources are eggs, green leafy vegetables, and fortified breakfast cereals. You can enhance absorption by including vitamin C with meals, in the form of juice or whole fruit, and avoid drinking tea and coffee with meals as this will reduce absorption.
Calcium is another nutrient that is important for athletes and is often poorly consumed. Dietary calcium is vital for strengthening bones. Dairy products like milk, yoghurt and cheese are the best sources of calcium. Low fat products are higher in calcium than full fat products, and the milk proteins present also enhance absorption. Weight bearing exercise is also a factor for strong bones, and the more exercise you do the stronger the bones can become. This is site specific, so running will strengthen the legs, ankles and feet, while upper body weights will help shoulders, arms and wrists.
Antioxidants such as vit C, vit E and phytochemicals, plus Zinc, Copper and Selenium are necessary for optimal immune function. All of these elements are found naturally in foods. The best way to ensure you’re getting enough is to eat a wide variety from all food groups, and include lots of different coloured food.
Bioflavonoids are a group of antioxidants found in red wine, grape juice, berries and dark chocolate. They are found to have beneficial health effects and to be cancer preventative. So including a small amount of these regularly in the diet (though in limited amounts for the chocolate and wine) will be advantageous to your health.