You’ve probably heard of the ‘5 a day’ drive that has hit the health and nutrition world in the last 5 or so years, although we have known that fruit and veg is an integral cog in the health and well being machine for decades, it is only more recently that our public health sectors have invested purposefully to get the message across! Schemes such as the aforementioned ‘5 a day’ initiative and the ‘Change for Life’ incentives have profoundly raised awareness for the need of adequate fruit and veg in everyday life.
Fruit and veg is a very useful nutritional component for a variety of reasons including its role in healthy digestion, increasing the transit rate of fat through the bowel, lowering cholesterol and boosting the ratio of good (HDL) to bad (LDL) cholesterol reducing the risk of heart disease and many other chronic health conditions.
Vitamin & Mineral Content
Fruit and veg is also a dense source of vitamins and minerals, most notably vitamin C, of which 40% of the UK’s dietary intake being derived from fruit. Blackcurrants are one of the richest sources, followed by strawberries, kiwis and oranges to name a few. Incidentally, the Acai berry is the richest source of vitamin C in the world today! Fruit and veg is the primary source of water soluble vitamins, and fresh fruit juices are a concentrated source of vitamin C and other vitamins such as the B vitamins and folic acid. As nourishing as fruit juices are, these do contain ‘non-milk extrinsic sugars’ i.e. the sugar is external from the cell, meaning they can be problematic for dental caries as well as weight gain if consumed in excess. Fresh fruit juices do contribute to your daily fruit intake but quantities should remain low, say no more than 125ml per day. A fruit and veg smoothie will deliver a serving of antioxidant rich nutrition…the addition of veg (particularly green leafy veg) will deliver your body with calcium, non-haem iron (plant derived) and vitamin A, and particularly beta carotene (a pre-cursor to vitamin A) which is responsible for the yellow and orange colours seen in peppers, carrots, mango and apricots for example. Other minerals derived from veg include Boron, Chromium, Magnesium, Manganese and although only required in small amounts…are integral to the homeostatic balance of your body!
The role of Antioxidants in exercise
As important as training is to health, wellbeing and performance enhancement, rest is important in equal measure, as this is the time our bodies recover and grow! If you don’t rest enough then the body becomes stressed and run down, cortisol levels increase and free radicals circulate contributing to cellular damage. Irritability, low mood, frequent colds and illness, a plateau in gains and poor sleep are some tell tale signs you may be overtraining. If you think you may be suffering with this, rest and healthy eating has to be the priority! Rest periods can range from 2-3 weeks, up to several months depending on the severity of the condition.
Fruit and veg are a dense source of the key vitamins and minerals that contribute to your antioxidant levels, and it’s these antioxidants that buffer those damaging free radicals!
Aim for ‘5 a Day’
The ideal ratio is 3 : 2 in favour of veg. Vegetables are known as non-starch polysaccharides and have a lower glycaemic response and are inherently lower in total calories and sugar. Therefore aim to have 3 portions of veg a day, as well as 2 portions of fruit.
NOTE: This must be a variety of fruit and veg as different fruits and veg contain different types and quantities of certain vitamins and minerals i.e. 2 bananas will only count as 1 portion of fruit and not 2 of your 3. Try having 2 small tangerines (1 portion) and 1 apple (1 portion), as well as broccoli for your lunch (1 portion), and spinach and grated carrot with your evening meal (2 portions).
Should you find yourself struggling to consume the recommended 5 a day, you can always try a nutritional supplement to help you on your way…
- Multi-vitamin and mineral for antioxidant and tissue support (muscle, veins and arteries)
- Omega oil blend for its anti-inflammatory properties in joints and connective tissue (ligaments and tendons)
- ZMA supplement for the replenishment of zinc, magnesium and Vitamin B12 which is commonly deficient in the build up to an overtrained state
- Iron supplement because deficiency is also common in the overtrained state, especially among females! An iron supplement can help to reduce anaemia and improve oxygen delivery and energy levels!
Food Standards Agency, (2008). Manual of Nutrition. Amino Acids. 11th Ed. London: TSO.
NHS Choices, your health, your choices, (2011). Vitamins and minerals. Retrieved 1st July, 2013, from http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/vitamins-minerals/Pages/Other-vitamins-minerals.aspx