MARIKA SBOROS: The best foods for refuelling — and why sarmies and smoothies are off the list
Fitness trainers and nutrition specialists are quick to tell people what to eat before and during exercise. More so if they are preparing for extreme events, such as the Comrades Marathon or Iron Man.
What is eaten after training sessions is also important.
Don’t even think about store-bought smoothies, says Azza Motara, a "real-food" dietitian in private practice in Lakefield, Benoni. She defines real food as nutrient-dense, whole foods with zero or minimal human interference in production. This does not include foods with ingredient lists or labels touting various health benefits.
"Most store-bought smoothies are too high in sugar and other carbohydrates. You are better off making your own smoothies from scratch," she says, preferably with a protein base. They should be more green than fruity.
Motara says a few berries are fine in a smoothie as they are low in fructose (fruit sugar). She recommends fibrous green vegetables, such as kale, spinach and other leafy veggies.
She also advises that simple carbs be avoided, and not just after exercise. This includes pasta, white and brown rice and bread, including brown and whole wheat.
Motara says grains spike blood sugar and affect the gut microbiome. "You don’t need them. If you feel you need more complex carbs, go for small amounts of sweet potato. Otherwise vegetables are a quality source of bioavailable nutrient-dense carbs."
She tells her clients — elite athletes and lesser mortals — to choose real foods that best control blood sugar.
Australian fitness trainer Andre Obradovic agrees that real food is the best choice for after exercise. He says it provides preferential fuelling.
Obradovic is a US-trained triathlon and personal trainer as well as a nutrition and leadership coach. He was in Cape Town in February to speak at the launch of the Noakes Foundation’s Nutrition Network. The network runs nutrition training courses for doctors, dietitians and other health professionals.
Obradovic trains more than 18 hours a week so he takes post-exercise fuelling seriously. He says he chooses from the world’s healthiest, real foods. "Most people fuel incorrectly because they don’t plan."
Many athletes use quick-fix solutions, including protein powders. He is not opposed to such supplements.
"If you are fuelling on packaged foods and they work for you, then carry on," Obradovic says.
People who do not recover quickly after intense training sessions or sporting events, and people carrying excess weight or body fat, might want to think about what they can do to change those problems.
Beware of beef that is finished on grain. Ask questions and do research for the best meat possible
"Food really is medicine," Obradovic says.
Like Motara, he approves of sweet potato after exercise. But go easy on them if you are trying to lose weight, he says. If not, then serve sweet potatoes with sour cream and good-quality butter.
Butter and cream are good, healthy fats that lower blood sugar and reduce the effect of insulin on storing fat. They contain adiponectin, a protein hormone produced by fat cells that serves as an important modifier of insulin metabolism.
Sweet potato is also a good source of bioavailable beta-carotene. It promotes antioxidant and anti-inflammatory protection and is rich in vitamins A and C.
Obradovic also recommends other vegetables for optimum fuelling. He says spinach is full of vitamin K and A. It has high levels of manganese, folate, magnesium, iron and potassium and flavonoids that act as anti-inflammatory compounds.
It is also an important source of selenium, a trace element that has antioxidant properties that helps lower the risk of oxidative stress.
Avocados are full of mono-saturated fats, with high levels of phytosterols and polyhydroxylated fatty acids that have excellent anti-inflammatory benefits.
They increase HDL (so-called good cholesterol) and lower LDL (bad cholesterol).
Winter squash is high in vitamins B1, B3 and B6, which are beneficial for blood sugar control. It has high levels of carotenoid, which has an important antioxidant function of deactivating free radicals. Free radicals are single oxygen atoms that can damage cells by reacting with other molecules.
Broccoli is chock-a-block with health-promoting compounds, such as gluconsinolates, which promote detoxification. It contains high levels of phytonutrients, antioxidants and carotenoids.
Broccoli is high in vitamins K and C and chromium.
It should preferably not be eaten raw, but instead lightly cooked and covered with olive oil or butter.
Obradovic is also big on meat, as long as it is grass-fed and pasture-raised.
"Beware of beef that is finished on grain," he says. "Ask questions and do your research for the best meat possible."
He favours grass-fed beef because of its high levels of CLA (conjugated linoleic acid).
"You’ll get 2.5 times more CLA than from nongrass-fed beef," he says.
Benefits are increased immune and anti-inflammatory systems support, improved bone mass, blood sugar regulation, reduced body fat and maintenance of lean body mass.
For optimum post-exercise fuelling, he advises that the fat is not cut off meat. Rib eye and scotch fillet should be cooked with good-quality butter, lard, olive oil or grilled on a braai.
Obradovic says vegetable oils are toxic and should never be used.
Fish is brain and body fuel, and Obradovic favours wild salmon. "Avoid farmed fish like the proverbial plague," he says.
Wild salmon has significant benefits for cardiovascular support because of the high levels of omega-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic (EPA). One serving can deliver 450mg of EPA. It is also a top source of vitamin D to help with pro-inflammatory signalling, and it has high levels of selenium.
Obradovic is also a fan of sardines, which are very high in vitamin B12, selenium, omega-3 fatty acids (with even higher levels than salmon) and more.
He recommends eating them for breakfast to power your body throughout the day and after workouts.
Eggs are another fabulous food for post-exercise fuelling, he says. Obradovic eats two eggs every day of the year without fail.
He recommends free-range, pasture-raised eggs, as these contain all the B vitamins, high levels of choline, iodine and selenium, and high levels of omega-3.
Eggs have excellent levels of phosphorus, which is critical for your bones, teeth and DNA-RNA. It is also one of the main regulators of energy metabolism in organs and helps generate energy in every cell of your body.
At heart, Motara and Obradovic have real food in common plus a healthy respect for exercise and proper fuelling before, during and after exercise. It is an essential part of caring for the body.
After all, as the late US entrepreneur, author and motivational speaker Jim Rohn once said: "Take care of your body. It’s the only place you have to live."