Are you reliant on anti-nutrients – empty calories to fuel your day?

Do you fuel your exercise, workouts or even your sedentary day with sports drinks, sports bars, sports gels, jellybeans?

Maybe you then keep topped up with rice, pasta, bread, potato, bananas, cakes and cereals at home and during the day.

If this describes you, how is it working for you?

How is your body composition? Are you achieving your weight loss, health and performance goals?

To provide our body with all the fuel necessary sports nutrition companies would love to have you believe that you cant do without them. But how healthy is this type of food in the long run? How effective is a high carbohydrate diet for weight loss? Are there any detrimental effects?

Where Do We Store Our Energy?

little bit about body fuel.

Your body uses various fuels including fat, protein and carbohydrate.

In addition to this, energy is also stored in alcohol although this is not a useful energy source and cannot be considered fuel for sport. In energy terms fat has the highest energy density of 9kcal/g, compared to 7kcal/g for alcohol, and 4kcal/g for both carbohydrate and protein.

To get the same amount of energy you have to eat more than double the amount of carbohydrate as you do fat.

Where we store our fuel depends on the timing and type of food we eat.

In terms of a fully-fueled adult body, we store enough carbohydrate energy in muscle cells and liver (stored as glycogen) to fuel about 2 hours of continual aerobic exercise such as cycling. In contrast to this we store enough energy as fat to fuel 40 times this.

So why do most of us eat a high carbohydrate and very low fat diet?

Accessing stored energy is crucial for it to be useful in sport, and this is where the difference lies between stored glycogen and fat.

Glycogen is highly accessible and quickly used in sport, and even more so as the intensity increased. The blood glucose is replenished by the muscle glycogen as it depletes and is easily used to fuel sport.

Fat on the other hand is far less accessible and is a much slower source of energy. It certainly is our main fuel source in sedentary life, but as sport intensity increases the percentage of energy used from fat decreases as the glycogen use increases.

Since we only have a couple of hours worth of glycogen storage in our muscles, we do re-fuel with sugary sports drinks, which are rapidly absorbed into the blood stream and either prevent the glycogen depletion or replenish lost energy, resulting in better and prolonged sports performance.

With this in mind the traditional endurance diet is therefore considered optimal with approximately 70% of energy from carbohydrates, and the rest from protein and fat. This will not work if you want to lose weight.

Periodise Your Food Like Your Training

Is a blanket nutrition rule applicable to everybody though? Imagine if you only exercised the same type and intensity of exercise every day. You would soon stop seeing results and you’d feel monotony and boredom quite quickly.

So why would we not adapt our eating to meet the demands of the activity we do.

Anti-Nutrients In Our Diets

If a food type supplies energy to the body, but little in the way of nutrients it is termed an anti-nutrient.

Examples include highly processed grains and sugar, which account for the majority of the average diet, as recommended by the USDA food pyramid (obesity wasn’t a problem before its advent).

Pasta, bread, potato, cereal, sports drink, and sports bars all supply what can be described as empty calories. They provide energy but little nutritional benefit, and may even deplete the body of vitamins and minerals.

An example would be the massive reliance on wheat for energy that results in an acidic environment in the body. To counteract this the body will call upon it’s alkaline stores (calcium from bones) to neutralize the acid, but wheat does not provide the materials to replenish these stores. In fact phytates will bind with other minerals further exacerbating the problem.

Meat And Ten Veg Please

So what can be done to ensure our bodies are getting the nutrients needed and the required fuel?

We need to consider our nutrition not just as fuel but as nutrients too. The government’s five a day may well be a start but for optimal nutrition, especially for athletes, we really should be looking closer to 10 servings of vegetables per day.

Green leafy vegetables have an alkaline effect on the body, and the more colours and dark vegetables you get on your plate the more antioxidants, minerals, vitamins and fibre you will be consuming.

Getting your carbohydrates from nutrient-dense fibrous vegetables rather than nutrient-sparse grains, potato and sugar will ensure energy is topped up during your sedentary day.

In addition to fruit and vegetables, grass-fed organic meat, game meats and line-caught fish such as mackerel, salmon and trout will supply amino acids, minerals and essential fatty acids including omega 3 which are essential to health.

Get The Most From Your Carbs

  1. Keep your sports fuel to before, during and after you sport and not during your sedentary day. If weight loss is for you, then avoid at all costs!
  2. If you can’t resist, consume any high glycemic index foods, sports recovery drink or meal such as pasta or bread, (preferably with a little protein and fat (chicken sandwich)) immediately or within 15 minutes of exercise. Again, consume low GI for weight loss and keep protein high.
  3. If you can’t avoid them offset the negatives of anti-nutrients with nutrient dense foods during your day.


Keep the high-carb refined foods in your diet when they are needed for sport, but consume fibrous carbohydrate or low and no carb sources during your sedentary day.

Finally, for more on nutrition and weight loss and improving your health, body composition and performance in all aspects of your life, you might like to read this ultimate weight loss guide – how to lose weight without dieting as well as learning more about online nutrition coaching and exercise plans.

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