“I don’t worry about my diet,” says Shawn Shaw, a triathlete and runner. “I’m sure I get what I need because I eat a lot.” But, like so many other men, Shaw may not be adequately fuelling his performance and health with this “garbage- disposal” eating method. Men often think they are free of any special dietary concerns and sometimes don’t realise that their diets do make a difference. Diet can affect a man’s running and his sexual performance. It can determine the length of his lifespan and reduce his risk of getting diseases such as prostate cancer.
EAT FOR SEX
Many runners enjoy a better sex life than sedentary people. Reports suggest that regular exercise improves self-image, which boosts sexual desire and enjoyment. But an athlete can also tell you that sex is often the last thing on his mind. This can happen because of lower male hormone levels that occur following exhausting training. Working out for 2 hours a day may not only squelch your desire, but also lead to weight loss, which can further lower testosterone levels. So check your training mileage, track your sleep and fatigue levels and make sure you keep your weight steady during your racing season by eating frequently–five to six smaller meals a day. Though no food is a proven aphrodisiac, the mineral zinc, found in oysters, meats and whole grains, is essential for sperm production and male sexual functioning. (In rare situations, low zinc intake may contribute to impotence.) Adequate vitamin C intake may also contribute to healthy sperm cell production.
PROTECT YOUR PROSTATE
One in 10 men will get cancer of the prostate–the small gland situated just below the bladder, responsible for producing seminal fluid. Risk factors include family history, but accumulating research suggests that diet plays a part, too. Eating a high-fat diet, particularly when the fat comes from animal products, can greatly increase your risk. Other research shows that certain foods may protect the prostate. Japanese men, for example, have a much lower prostate cancer risk than Europeans. This may be attributable to the popularity in Japan of soybean- based foods such as tofu. Soybeans contain isoflavones, which have been shown to protect against cancer; other beans such as lentils and peas also contain cancer- fighting isoflavones.
A hectic lifestyle means stress, and stress can mean health problems. Studies show that emotional stress can lead to higher levels of artery-clogging LDL cholesterol, increasing the risk of heart disease in men. Stress can also aggravate asthma symptoms and a host of digestive problems. Fending off all these ravages of stress requires a comprehensive approach. You need to monitor your sleep patterns and the amount of tension-busting free time you give yourself. Also, be sure you get plenty of fibre, and keep your alcohol and caffeine intake down. (Too little fibre and too much caffeine can both cause digestive problems.) Eating plenty of fresh vegetables, fruits, whole grains and fiber-filled breakfast cereals will help you get the recommended 25 grams of dietary fiber a day.
EAT FOR MUSCLE
Okay, so you aren’t bodybuilding’s Mr. Universe. As a runner, you wouldn’t want to be. Yet heavy-duty marathon training can lead to muscle tissue loss, and that isn’t good either. Studies have shown that endurance training of about 2 hours a day breaks down muscle tissue that is then used for energy by working muscles, particularly when glycogen stores have run low. Because of this, some endurance athletes see a drop in body weight and a loss of muscle over a few months of heavy training. Eating sufficient calories, carbohydrates and protein daily will help stave off this “wasting.” You need anywhere from 450 to 600 grams of carbohydrates a day. This means eating more than 12 servings of grains and at least four servings of vegetables and fruits daily. Endurance training pushes protein needs to 25 to 50 percent more than the RDA, or about 70 to 90 grams total a day. You can meet this requirement with regular servings of fish, beans, cooked grains, poultry and other lean meats.
REBUILD WITH FOOD
Whether you run in the morning or squeeze your miles in later, what you eat afterward may determine the quality of your next workout and your energy level for the rest of the day. During a workout, glycogen stores diminish. Rebuilding these stores soon after exercise is crucial, as that’s when muscles are their hungriest. Munching on a carbohydrate- rich food is a good idea, but recent studies suggest that a combination of carbohydrates and protein about 30 minutes after hard running can rebuild glycogen stores better than a carbohydrate-only meal. This combo may also speed muscle recovery. Based on these studies, about 80 to 100 grams of carbohydrates and 15 to 40 grams of protein taken after exercise should suffice. This is equivalent to eating either a tuna sandwich with a banana and an apple, or a hefty bowl of breakfast cereal topped with skim milk and sliced strawberries.
You’ve probably heard that drinking some alcohol is good. That’s true. Men who consume modest amounts of alcohol–one to two drinks daily–have a lower risk of heart disease, the leading cause of death in men. The drink of choice is red wine because it contains phenol, a substance that prevents LDL cholesterol from getting stuck on artery walls. But too much alcohol can interfere with carbohydrate metabolism. Alcohol also adversely affects vitamins (particularly the B vitamins, such as B6 and thiamine) and minerals in the body by accelerating both their breakdown and their rate of loss in the urine. Finally, alcohol, because it’s a diuretic (like coffee and tea), can shortchange performance by increasing water loss from the body. Therefore, if you do drink, keep it to one or two drinks per day.
With your busy schedule, occasionally skipping breakfast or missing lunch is inevitable. But this will drag your performance down–both at the job and during your workout. Studies show that reading comprehension and math computations falter in people who go without eating for 4 or more hours, whereas eating every 3 hours or so may enhance cognition by fueling the brain with a steady supply of carbohydrate energy. Attempting to work out on an empty stomach may also squash your performance during long workouts, since going without food for 4 or more hours begins to eat away at glycogen stores. Try to eat something every 3 hours to stay at peak energy levels. Take along easy-to-tote foods such as sport bars, dried fruit and sport drinks for an energising snack.
Men often go for take-out rather than prepare their own meals, but this can bump up fat intake and leave out performance- boosting carbohydrates. Preparing your own meals puts you in charge of the ingredients so that you can keep meals low in fat and loaded with vitamins and minerals. And you don’t have to become a gourmet cook or spend all your time in the kitchen either.