Dr Carrie Ruxton suggests healthy alternatives that can help give an advantage over store-bought supplements
The fitness industry is flooded with products claiming to improve performance and recovery. Yet although the sports supplement market is worth £650 million a year, it has been suggested that ordinary foods are more effective for people looking to get fit. Specialist sports foods may only be worthwhile for elite athletes looking to remove a few milliseconds on the world record.
Leading dietitian and health writer Dr Carrie Ruxton argues that fitness fans are better off sticking to simple foods. Read the following top tips for improving your fitness naturally.
These have come a long way from being an elite drink and are now seen as something to swig on the bus home. Carrie says: “Electrolyte and energy drinks are often packed with sugar and caffeine but are rarely worth having unless you’re exercising hard for more than an hour. There is a simple solution – a glass of skimmed milk has been shown to hydrate people more than a sports drink due to the sodium and potassium content.”
A protein bar may seem like a convenient on-the-go snack, but why not try healthier choices? Carrie says: “Protein bars typically contain 15-20g of protein, but a third of their weight is made up of sugar which puts most of them in the red traffic light according to the guidelines on food labels. The average protein bar gives you 150-200 calories per serving which is pretty high for anyone trying to watch their weight. Instead, why not try a couple of boiled eggs after exercising – this provides protein without the high sugar content.”
The must-have product for gym-goers – but are they really an essential ingredient for muscle-building? According to Carrie, “The average person needs 45-55g of protein a day but eats up to 65-85g. Even someone exercising a few times a week only needs around 70g of protein a day, so we’re getting enough in our diets. Protein shakes contain 20-40g of protein per serving which could push our daily intakes too high.” Consider eating natural products such as meat, poultry, fish, beans or pulses – this supports muscle repair more than downing a protein shake.
Branched chain amino acids (BCAA)
BCAA refer to a chain of three amino acids – typically found in eggs, chicken and fish – that are used to target performance and stop muscle breakdown after exercising. Carrie says: “There are also several good studies on beetroot which show that it contributes to enhanced exercise efficiency, probably due to its high nitrate content which boosts circulation, muscular contraction and energy uptake by cells. Beetroot is a purple powerhouse and is a tasty way to supercharge a salad, boosting nitrate and antioxidant levels and helping your muscles recover quickly after a work-out. New research supports ability of beetroot to boost sports performance and improve recovery in less fit individuals.”
Natural foods such as beetroot, milk and eggs can do just as much if not more, for our bodies than expensive sports supplements. For the majority of people, exercise is part of a healthy, balanced lifestyle to improve strength and fitness – food is the key to fueling this. To maximise fitness performance, research supports the notion that it is better to eat a healthy diet, full of natural produce rather than wasting hours pursuing the latest fad.
 Data from Dr Carrie Ruxton’s report on protein bars – available on request