Nutrition plays a critical role in the progression of athletic performance. In fact, some even consider nutrition as the fourth pillar of a triathlon. Proper nutrition and hydration are among the most important considerations for all athletes: it’s important to know what your body needs to stay strong and well-nourished.
Nutrition is a science within itself. As new information is constantly being discovered and old information is sometimes disproven, nutrition is a complex topic that requires constant updates.
It is important to understand that the perfect diet doesn’t exist. Everybody is different, so our needs vary depending on many factors: age, sex, metabolism, physical activity, weight, height, and so on.
For example, a triathlete will not have the same needs as a bodybuilder. In fact, even two people following the same type of training will not have the same needs! This is to enforce the fact that you shouldn't strictly follow recommendations: you should also listen to and follow your own body.
Physical activity results in an increased use of energy by the muscles. We get this energy from our food, which is why what you eat has a major impact not only on performance, but also on growth, overall health, and recovery.
But what exactly goes on in our body? Muscles transform chemical energy into mechanical energy. This chemical energy is provided by macronutrients. There are 3 types of macronutrients that we consume: lipids, carbohydrates and protein. Most of our body's cells are capable of using these elements to produce energy. However, not all nutrients have the same use or energy capacity.
It is well established that a diet rich in carbohydrates is needed to increase both endurance and intermittent high-intensity performance. When we eat carbohydrates, they are digested and converted into glucose, which is the primary energy molecule for muscles. Glucose is stored in muscle cells and in the liver as glycogen. Glucose also circulates in the blood where its level is regulated by insulin and glucagon. Furthermore, the brain and central nervous system relies on glucose as its primary energy provider.
Carbohydrates are the most efficiently broken down and metabolized form of energy for the body. They can be used as fuel for any and all types of exercise, including anaerobic (without oxygen) and aerobic (with oxygen) exercise. Carbohydrates have an advantage over lipids in terms of energy expenditure because they release a greater amount of ATP (the molecule that provides energy at the molecular level) by volume of oxygen delivered to the cells.
When glycogen stores get depleted, performance is compromised, and so the same intensity of exercise cannot be sustained. This feeling has coined the term "hitting the wall".
If you need a carbohydrate boost during your workouts, one Näak bar contains 28g of natural unrefined carbohydrates, allowing for a sustainable energy supply. Learn more about it here!
Fat is an essential part of a healthy and balanced diet. In addition to being a source of energy for our body, fats have many other important functions in the body such as facilitating the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins, providing structural components for cell membranes, and more.
Because fats are calorically dense (they carry 9 calories/gram), they are mainly used by the body during longer and low to medium intensity exercise. They are extremely important as they provide almost an unlimited amount of energy for our body. Our adipose tissue can store up to 100,000 calories of energy!
Essential fatty acids in particular are of great importance. Each Näak bar contains both omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids in an optimal ratio. These fatty acids are particularly important for athletes because they slow down inflammation, stimulate the immune system, and support cell growth.
There are many forms of lipids, each with different properties. Learn more about lipids here.
Adequate protein intake is crucial for endurance athletes. However, protein is not an important energy provider: it represents only 5-10% of the substrate used for energy production during most exercises. Proteins do most of their work in the cell and perform various jobs such as the growing and maintaining tissues, providing structure to cells, balancing fluid, and allowing metabolic reactions to occur. Although protein is able to supply the body with energy, it is the last thing your body wants to use since protein is a valuable nutrient widely used throughout the body. Your body breaks down skeletal muscle so that the amino acids can supply you with energy only during a state of fasting or when glycogen stores are depleted.
Protein is vital for athletes because they provide the amino acids that the muscles need to rebuild and repair themselves. Additionally, strenuous training results in inflammation and tearing of muscle tissue. Dietary protein, since it plays an important role in repairing and strengthening muscle tissue, is then important in the recovery process for athletes after a training session.
It is clear that protein is an essential macronutrient for athletes, which is why each Näak energy bar has 6 grams of complete protein from cricket powder.
Athletes should also pay attention to micronutrient intake, particularly calcium, iron, vitamin D, and antioxidants. Our cells carry out metabolic pathways in which these micronutrients are necessary, especially during physical activity. Micronutrients are particularly important for athletic performance as they help with synthesis and repair of muscle tissue during recovery from exercise and injury and also play an important role in the maintenance of bone health and immune function.
Iron is a mineral essential for energy production so having adequate levels in the blood is critical for athletic performance. It is also one of the components in red blood cells, therefore plays an important role in providing muscles with oxygen. A diet lacking in iron can lead to a decrease in muscle function, thus compromising training adaptation and as a result, overall performance. This is why iron levels need to be watched more carefully at certain times such as during child growth, altitude training, blood loss, and so on.
Calcium has many functions in the human body, including maintaining bone strength and health, playing a role in muscle contraction and blood clotting, among others. Because athletes exert stress on the bones on a daily basis, calcium is vital for athletes.
Did you know that crickets are good sources of calcium? They even contain more calcium than milk!
The role of vitamin D is to regulate the absorption and metabolism of calcium and phosphorus. Therefore, it is needed for muscle function, proper immune function, and bone health.
Antioxidants are molecules that protect the cells against free radicals. Free radicals occur as a result of normal metabolic processes or external sources such as air pollutants, cigarette smoking, or industrial chemicals. Antioxidants neutralize these effects. The main antioxidants are vitamins A, C and E, flavonoids, carotenoids, and selenium.
Water and electrolytes
Finally, proper fueling for endurance athletes means more than just eating: it also involves consistent and adequate electrolyte and fluid replenishment. Fluids and electrolytes are important for a number of different reasons (conducting electrical activity, controlling fluid balance, etc) and an electrolyte imbalance can seriously impact overall athletic performance.
Learn more about hydration and electrolytes here.
Näak Ultra Endurance Energy Bars
With a 4:1 carbohydrate/protein ratio, Näak ultra energy bars provide you with sufficient amounts of carbohydrates to top off your muscle glycogen levels in the most efficient way possible thanks to the addition of protein, which enhances glucose uptake by your muscle cells and reduces energy level fluctuation. Additionally, each Näak ultra endurance energy bar contains 180mg of electrolytes. They are rich in sodium and potassium for two reasons: to help athletes balance their electrolyte levels lost through sweat during exercise & prevent muscle cramping during intense physical challenges.
For those who need some extra cricket power, you can find our collection here!