Whether you are a professional athlete, looking to improve your fitness or participating in sport just for the fun of it, good solid nutrition underpins your efforts and results.
Sports nutrition is a huge topic, and requirements differ according to the individual. However, to keep things simple for this blog, we will break down the topic into the following three main areas, with a focus on the potential role of seaweed!
1 – Macronutrients (carbohydrates, proteins, fats)
These provide an appropriate intake of fuel to support energy expenditure. A good intake of macros sustains our energy levels throughout training sessions, replacing glycogen stores in muscles (stored energy) and preventing fatigue.
2 – Micronutrients (vitamins and minerals)
To support muscle repair, recovery, inflammation, joint health, energy from a cellular level and more.
3 – Hydration (water and electrolytes)
We lose a lot of water and electrolytes through sweat, so if not replenished, performance levels can drop, increasing risk of injury and reducing strength. This is because electrolytes are required for almost every bodily function, including regulating the function of muscles, nerves, heart and helping to build new tissues.
Providing the right amount of macro, micro and hydration intakes can have a huge impact on your performance.
Now we will take a look at how seaweed can be incorporated into all of this.
Energy yielding metabolism:
Seaweeds contain an incomparable wealth of vitamins and minerals. In-fact, gram for gram, seaweeds are higher in vitamins and minerals than any other class of food. Seaweed contains significantly more vitamin C than oranges and some species of seaweed contain up to 13x more iron than steak! Many of the micronutrients found in seaweed are important in sport:
- Magnesium, B-vitamins, Vitamin C and iron are essential micronutrients required for cellular energy production. Mitochondria (tiny structures within all cells of the human body, except for red blood cells) produce energy via respiration. Muscle cells and cardiac cells (like the heart) have many mitochondria because they need a lot of energy in order to contract and move the body. We like to think of mitochondria as duracell batteries! And in order to produce energy, they require specific micronutrients, many of which can be found in seaweed.
- Iodine, found in seaweed, is required for thyroid hormone production. Thyroid hormones regulate energy yielding metabolism, body temperature, metabolic rate, reproduction, growth, blood cell production, nerve and muscle function. Imbalances can have far-reaching effects not just for sports performance but for general health and wellbeing!
The high content of electrolyte (electrically charged) minerals e.g. calcium, magnesium, sodium and potassium means seaweed is a super natural way of replacing the electrolytes lost during your training sessions. Try adding dulse flakes to your smoothie for a post-work recovery meal!
Blood sugar regulation:
Blood sugar balance affects sports performance. A diet high in refined/simple sugars e.g. sweets, chocolate, cake and highly processed foods results in large amounts of sugar in the bloodstream, hence we get a “sugar (energy) high”.
High blood sugar stimulates the pancreas to release a hormone called insulin. Insulin’s job is to move glucose out of the bloodstream and into cells to be used for energy, or, insulin moves the glucose into parts of the body to be stored.
“Sugar highs” are therefore followed by “sugar lows” leading to energy crashes. As our energy crashes, our body craves more sugar so we reach for another sugar snack – in an attempt to give us more energy. This kicks off a vicious cycle called the blood sugar rollercoaster which as you can imagine, is not very efficient, especially for sport!
One way to manage blood sugar is to swap sugary foods for more complex carbohydrates that are naturally higher in fibre which takes longer to digest and therefore helps balance blood sugar levels and provides us with longer lasting energy.
Seaweeds, like land vegetables, are a great source of fibre which helps to promote satiety and regulate blood sugar levels thereby promoting endurance, as we have just discussed. However, the contribution of whole seaweed to the current recommended intake of dietary fibre (30 g/day) is limited. Because of this, a lot of research is looking into using isolated/extracted fibres from seaweeds.
That’s not to say that you wont get a benefit from eating whole seaweed though! Here at seaweed surf shack, we love to add whole seaweed into meals or snacks like oat bars, energy balls, smoothies, burgers, salads, stir frys, stews and much more!
On a gram-for-gram basis, seaweeds have a protein and amino acid profile comparable to that of beef and they contain all 9 essential amino acids. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein, bones, muscles, cartilage, skin, enzymes and hormones. Protein is especially important for athletes, who need to repair and build muscle tissue breakdown during exercise.
However, as seaweeds are consumed in small quantities and there is variability of both the content and the bioavailability of protein from whole seaweeds, seaweed protein extracts may be a future way to reap the benefits of seaweed based protein.
Anti-oxidant effects :
During exercise, our natural production of free radicals increases. Free radicals are unstable molecules that can cause damage to bodily cells. Antioxidants help to neutralize these free radicals – in other words – they help to reduce free radical accumulation and therefore protect our cells from exercise induced damage.
This can bring benefit to athletes by attenuating muscle damage and thus improving muscular performance.
Seaweed is rich in antioxidant vitamins like A, C, E and antioxidant bioactive compounds like carotenoids (Beta carotene, astaxanthin).
So hopefully after that you can see how edible seaweeds have the potential to provide a rich and sustainable food source with a potential benefit as a food for sports. Just keep in mind that seaweed is consumed in much smaller quantities than land vegetables and livestock – but it certainly packs a punch for a humble sea-vegetable!