An exploration on the relationship between nutrition and fitness
Written for Revere, with support from Jennifer M. Sacheck, Ph.D., FACSM, Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University, Abbie E. Smith-Ryan, PhD, CSCS, CISSN, University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, and Mike Barwis, Senior Advisor of Strength & Conditioning, New York Mets and CEO, Barwis Methods Companies
Getting the right type of nutrition is essential for maximizing the benefits of exercise — it may triple energy levels going into a workout and enhance recovery two to three-fold which in turn, has major physiologic and metabolic benefits [2, 3]. And just as much as the body needs the right nutrition, timing of nutrients is critical. Optimizing the timing nutrient intake can have a significant impact on exercise performance, recovery, muscle growth, and body composition . Further, the type of exercise being done simultaneously impacts the timing and types of nutrients the body needs. Collectively, appropriately executing the timing of when the body gets specific nutrients for specific types of exercises will significantly increase the likelihood of meeting training potential and fitness goals.
Protein and carbohydrates are key nutrients to consume before and after exercise. Carbohydrates are a major source of fuel for exercise, while the amino acids that the body gets from protein are critical for muscle growth and repair. Merging the right combination of protein and carbohydrates together results in an increase in muscle protein synthesis, glycogen repletion, as well as improvements in strength and body composition .
By appropriately timing carbohydrate and protein consumption around each workout, glucose availability to the working muscles is enhanced while maintaining blood sugar levels. This increases energy during a workout, delays fatigue, maximizes protein synthesis post-workout [1, 4], and results in a number of other beneficial physiological adaptations [5, 6]. Coupling high quality carbohydrate and protein sources with additional nutrients may further enhance exercise performance by reducing inflammation and soreness and augmenting immune function.
Clearly nutrient timing is critical, but the foods where these nutrients come from make an impact as well. Nutrients sourced from whole foods offer additional health benefits and nutritional punch.
State of the Industry: Why whole foods are the way forward.
Whole foods as a source of nutrients represent an improvement over the status quo in the world of sports nutrition. Currently, much of the industry focuses on providing users supplements that are a blend of compounds and individual nutrients. Many of these supplements are based on a biochemical mechanism (reactions between various ingredients) that in theory should help performance given what they are supposed to do for the body. People know that vitamins and nutrients are good for them, and these compounds and products aim to supply them.
However, when a laboratory synthesizes “nutrient” compounds or isolates them from various sources, they do not necessarily provide the same benefit as when they are found in the whole foods where they appear naturally. When nutrients appear in whole foods, these vitamins, minerals and other nutritional compounds come together to form a complementary unit, which may support additional nutritional and physiological benefits compared to synthetic compounds.
The issue of whole food based vs. lab-produced supplements raises a safety element as well. The number of lawsuits against false label claims or failure to include active ingredients on the label is on the rise. That’s why now, more than ever, finding products that use ingredients that are naturally occurring, can be easily understood, and are derived from whole foods is important to ensure safety and quality for those that use them.
The supplement industry as it stands does not offer products that speak to the personal nature of nutrition needs. Body size, sex, and fitness/wellness goals all greatly impact the needs and relative effectiveness of macro- and micronutrients, especially those coming from a supplemental regimen.
Further, the type of exercise, duration and intensity of an individual’s workout regimen impact their pre- and post-exercise energy and nutrient demands. For example, the demands on muscle physiology are quite different when comparing strength vs. cardiovascular exercise, and the energy needs of differing body masses require different calorie loads. In order to provide the best product for consumers, supplemental nutrition shouldn’t be a one size fits all process.
As stated, nutrients derived from whole foods are advantageous for delivering nutrients to the body. The following list of ingredients outlines great examples of whole foods that contain key nutrients for achieving maximum effectiveness from exercise.
Pea and Brown Rice Plant-based Protein: for strength and muscle repair
One of the most crucial times for nutrient consumption is after a workout. Studies have shown that it is most effective for muscle building when ~20 g of protein is consumed early in the post-exercise period . Most research studies over the past two decades looking at the impact of protein have focused heavily on animal protein (e.g. isolated whey protein) for stimulating muscle protein synthesis.
However, many people with allergies or sensitivity to milk products find that whey protein is not the best option. In contrast, plant-based proteins have received increased interest among exercisers, not only due to its health benefits, but also its potentially positive impact on physiological and muscular outcomes when paired with exercise [10–12].
The challenge is that often the protein found in plants is not a “complete” protein (containing all essential amino acids essential to muscle growth and repair). The solution is pairing one plant protein with another “complementary” plant protein. This forms a complete amino acid profile that can be consumed with the potential to have similar physiological benefits to animal protein sources. Additionally, fortifying plant-based proteins with additional amino acids, or increasing the amount of consumption, can enhance the quality of a plant based protein, similar to an animal protein profile .
Two popular plant-based protein sources are pea protein and brown rice protein. These foods are not only nutrient dense, but also provide complementary amino acids resulting in a complete protein. While studies are still emerging on the relative impact of these plant protein sources, initial evidence suggests positive benefits on muscle protein synthesis .
Sweet potato: for energy, stamina and muscle glycogen replenishment
Sweet potato is known as a “functional food” (foods that have that have a potentially positive effect on health beyond basic nutrition). Sweet potatoes are an excellent source of complex carbohydrates with a moderate glycemic index making them easy to digest and absorb (ideal for pre- and post-exercise) . Pre-exercise, sweet potatoes provide energy to working muscles and enable blood sugar levels to remain stable. They are also loaded with nutrients including beta-carotene, vitamin C, potassium, calcium, and B vitamins . Post-exercise, sweet potatoes are also ideal also for replenishing muscle glycogen, along with providing anti-inflammatory nutrients (antioxidants like beta-carotene and vitamin C) that will help combat muscle soreness and inflammation .
Pomegranate & Beetroot: for endurance and anti-inflammation
Two of the most popular natural foods for exercise performance are pomegranate and beetroot (beta vulgaris). Both are nutritionally dense, including a high concentration of antioxidant compounds and nitrate. Dietary nitrate is converted into nitric oxide in the body, which has a potent vasodilating effect which increases blood flow to the exercising muscles . With enhanced blood flow during exercise, the heart does not need to work as hard pumping blood and oxygen to the working muscles, resulting in a lower heart rate for a given effort and a prolonged time to fatigue.
Pomegranate extract is a highly concentrated source of dietary nitrate and polyphenols, including flavonols, ellagitannins, and anthocyanins. Polyphenols have been shown to reduce oxidative stress, decrease inflammation, and stimulate vasodilation [21, 22]. Beetroot is also an excellent source of antioxidants and micronutrients, including potassium, betaine, magnesium, vitamin C, and nitrate . Given the high levels of antioxidants in both pomegranate and beetroot, these compounds likely confer additional health and performance benefits. These qualities make beetroot and pomegranate ideal pre-workout ingredients for improvements in exercise tolerance and recovery [24, 25].
Tart Cherry: for soreness prevention
Tart Montmorency cherries are high in polyphenolic antioxidants, along with additional phytochemical nutrients. Due to these natural qualities, tart cherry supplementation has been shown to accelerate recovery by reducing muscle damage and soreness following strenuous exercise [32–34]. Additionally, supplementation with tart cherries has been shown to reduce pain and inflammation to a similar degree as non-steroidal anti-inflammatories . As part of recovery, tart cherry supplementation has also demonstrated efficacy in increasing melatonin levels which is beneficial in improving sleep duration and quality , which may further aid in recovery.
Bacillus Coagulans (probiotic): for gut health
Probiotic use provides a broad range of benefits, from improved immune function, enhanced intestinal integrity — reducing bloating, enhanced body composition, altered nutrient absorption, and improved exercise tolerance [37–40]. Specific to exercise, Bacillus coagulans has been shown to have a positive effect on the absorption of branched chain amino acids and glutamine when administered in combination with protein, thereby increasing protein synthesis . Bacillus coagulans supplementation has also resulted in a reduction in muscle soreness, enhanced recovery, and reduced pain resulting from exercise . Bacillus coagulans is also most known for reducing bloating and improving or relieving overall abdominal discomfort, which is highly prevalent with aerobic exercise .
Caffeine: for energy and increased metabolism
Caffeine is one of the most widely used and studied ergogenic aids. Caffeine is found naturally in coffee, tea, and guarana. It is a central nervous system and metabolic stimulant utilized to reduce feelings of fatigue and to restore mental acuity. Numerous studies have demonstrated the benefits of caffeine when consumed prior to exercise . The traditional hypothesis is that caffeine increases the levels of our “fight or flight” chemical messengers, including epinephrine and norepinephrine, which promote fat utilization and result in the sparing of intramuscular glycogen.
Caffeine supplementation prior to exercise has been shown to increase fat oxidation (using fat for energy) and to spare muscle glycogen utilization by up to 55% . The decrease in glycogen breakdown during exercise would prove to be essential for endurance and prolonged activities, during which carbohydrate stores deplete before finishing the activity. In addition, caffeine may help athletes by positively influencing psychological state and altering pain perception. An accumulation of research has demonstrated that caffeine supplementation results in a reduction in perceived exertion during constant load exercise .
Electrolytes — Magnesium & Potassium: for hydration
The body sweats during exercise in order to maintain core body temperature and in addition to fluid loss, there is a loss of key nutrients, or “electrolytes” that help with fluid balance within the body. Two of these key electrolytes are magnesium and potassium .
Beyond serving as an important electrolyte, magnesium is also involved in numerous processes that affect muscle function including oxygen utilization and energy production. It is estimated that ~50% of the U.S. population consumes less than the RDA for magnesium, and it has been recommended by the Institute of Medicine that dietary potassium should increase, especially among individuals who are consuming higher levels of sodium (typically young adults) . Intense exercise may further increase dietary needs of both magnesium and potassium due to sweat losses and increased metabolic demands making post-exercise consumption of the nutrients ideal for fluid balance recovery.
Vitamins B6 & B12: for sustained energy and performance
There are key nutrients in the body that help with metabolic pathways (the way in which the body takes the food that is eaten and converts it to usable energy), which is especially critical when energy demands are high during exercise. Vitamins B6 and B12 are two such nutrients. They are essential water-soluble vitamins that play key roles in cellular energy metabolism, synthesis of amino acids, converting food to usable energy, brain function, and forming red blood cells and immune cells . Current data suggest that dietary intakes of these vitamins among U.S. adults are adequate , although some research indicates that young adults and vegetarians are demonstrating higher levels of B12 deficiency .
Revere’s formulas were developed to maximize the benefits of exercise through the use of whole-food based ingredients. Further, the formulas were designed to support the unique health and workout needs of different types of individuals.
Pre-Workout: for energy, stamina and mental focus
Energy levels heading into a workout set the stage for not only how someone feels during their workout, but how efficiently and effectively they exercise. It has been well-documented that pre-exercise carbohydrate and amino acid consumption aids in preventing fatigue, as well as enhancing performance . The combined ingestion of these nutrients, along with other energy promoting nutrients prior to exercise, may be ideal for increasing protein synthesis [51, 52], favorably altering metabolism , and enhancing the anabolic hormonal environment . Revere’s Pre-Workout Energy formula was specifically designed to:
o Increase mental acuity (all-natural sources of caffeine from coffee, tea and guarana);
o Deliver a jitter-free energy boost (nutrient dense fuel from sweet potato & caffeine);
o Enhance blood flow to muscles for delivery of key nutrients and removal waste (a combination of pomegranate & beetroot)
o Boost intake of B-vitamins, which are critical for energy metabolism and numerous other cellular pathways (vitamins B6 and B12)
Post-Strength: for recovery, strength and tone
Strength workouts are taxing on muscles — from muscle damage and inflammation to depleted muscle energy stores. As seen with pre-exercise supplementation, a combination of protein and carbohydrates may optimize muscle protein synthesis over protein alone [1, 5]. Improvements in muscle protein synthesis and repair means greater potential for higher intensity workouts, more often, resulting in growth of lean tissue and strength over time. This post-strength formula aims to give key nutrients that will help recovery and allow for subsequent workouts to be done just as powerfully. Revere’s Post-Strength Recovery formulation was designed to:
o Provide high-quality, natural vegetarian-sourced protein with all of the essential amino acids so that muscles can effectively repair and rebuild (blend from pea and brown rice protein)
o Minimize the effects of muscle damaging workouts, reducing inflammation with a potent source of antioxidants (tart cherry)
o Ensure that a small amount of nutrient-dense carbohydrate (sweet potato) is consumed alongside protein to accelerate muscle energy stores.
Post-Cardio: for recovery, repair, and whole-body health
After a rigorous cardiovascular workout, muscle energy stores are typically depleted and need to be replenished. Muscle glycogen re-synthesis can be optimized during the first 30–60 minutes after completing exercise when muscles are “primed” to replenish fuel losses . Carbohydrate consumption in this window is especially critical to replace lost muscle glycogen stores but is enhanced with the addition of protein [1, 3]. Consuming the right nutrition after intense cardio workouts will result in the ability to do subsequent workouts with added energy and stamina, while also maintaining physiological balance. Furthermore, solid nutrition post-workout will help to maintain steady blood sugar levels, which will minimize the possibility of low blood sugar and extreme hunger in the hours following your workout. With replenishment and recovery in mind, Revere’s Post-Cardio Recovery formulation was designed to:
o Maximize muscle energy replacement by providing a nutrient-dense carbohydrate source (sweet potato) that will effectively rebuild muscle glycogen stores
o Deliver the right concentration of high-quality protein that will optimize muscle recovery along with assisting with healthy muscle protein synthesis (pea and brown rice protein)
o Ensure electrolyte balance (magnesium and potassium).
o Promote gastrointestinal health, nutrient absorption, and immune function, all of which can be compromised after intense workouts (Bacillus Coagulans)
o Minimize the effects of muscle damaging workouts, such as inflammation, with potent sources of antioxidants (tart cherry)
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