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Eat for success: how Functional Sports Nutrition can support your training

Do you find that your sports training is hindered by recurring injuries, digestive issues, or frequent infections?

Functional Sports Nutrition can help with this…

What is Functional Sports Nutrition?

The concept of Functional Sports Nutrition (FSN) recognises the individual needs of each athlete and the connectivity of all body systems. By attending to the health of body systems, which is obtained through appropriate nutritional and lifestyle strategies, the base of sporting performance is supported. Optimum intakes of macros (carbs, protein, and fats) and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) enhance performance by supporting muscle recovery, aiding injury recovery, reducing fatigue, increasing stamina and power, supporting immunity, and increasing fat burning capacity. Once good health is in place, performance-based nutrition can then be considered.

How can FSN help me?

If you find that you are still plagued by injury or illness, despite eating enough calories (particularly from protein sources) to support your sports training, Functional Sports Nutrition could be for you.

If the body is not adequately nourished and rested, physiological stress may eventually begin to strain the body, which may lead to the following health concerns:

  • systemic inflammation (joint problems, hay fever),
  • compromised immunity (cold sores, frequent colds, infections, athletes foot),
  • gastro-intestinal problems (i.e. runner’s diarrhoea, bloating, constipation),
  • connective tissue problems (cramping, sprains, fractures).

Inflammation acts as the body’s defence system by bringing an increased level of immune activity to an area affected, due to injury or infection. However, it becomes a problem when inflammation is present in the body with no real purpose. ‘Chronic’, ‘systemic’ or ‘low grade’ inflammation can cause problems if it’s not dealt with, increasing the risk of injury and illness. Therefore, a nutritional therapy body systems approach is recommended to address inflammation as it seems to be involved in most health concerns, from obesity, to heart disease, to autoimmune disease, as well as sports injuries.

Nutrition strategies to combat inflammation

Firstly, are you keeping inflammation under control with the right balance of the types of fat in your diet? A diet containing large amounts of trans-fats and hydrogenated fats (found for example in margarine, biscuits, cakes, and pies), saturated fat (found in butter, fatty cuts of meat, cheese, cream), and omega-6 rich vegetable oils may worsen inflammation.  Whereas a diet high in monounsaturated fats (found in olive oil, avocados, and nuts i.e. almonds and walnuts) and omega-3 fats (found in oily fish i.e. mackerel, sardines, and salmon) can be anti-inflammatory.

Inflammation is affected by the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 in your diet. The ratio should be from 3:1 to 1:1 to help keep inflammation under control. So, in practical terms how do you eat to achieve this? Try avoiding trans and hydrogenated fats, eating only a small amount of foods containing omega-6 fats and saturated fat and purposely eating more foods rich in the monounsaturated and omega-3 fats (for example eating wild or organic oily fish several times each week). This should help with collagen production and support injury recovery, reduce inflammation helping with joint pains, gut issues and immunity.

Sometimes it is also beneficial to take fish oil supplements to help manage inflammation (especially if you are not a fan of fish). However, always check first with your doctor and nutritional therapist before taking nutritional supplements.

In addition to the desired omega 6:3 ratio, research has shown that by increasing nut, seed and olive oil within your diet this can slightly reduce inflammation. This may be due to the compounds they contain that reduce enzyme activity. For example, the compound oleocanthal that gives olive oil its taste has been shown to have a similar effect as some anti-inflammatory drugs.  Olive oil can be included in the diet as an ingredient in salad dressing (see

Secondly, certain dietary herbs have been shown to help control inflammation. These include turmeric, garlic, bromelain and boswellia.  These can be incorporated into the diet in supplement form to get a concentrated dose or in smaller amounts in food, for example by using garlic and turmeric within a curry recipe.

Thirdly, inflammation is suppressed if there are sufficient ‘good’ bacteria to break down fibre from our diet into short chain fatty acids. Gut flora affects and informs our immune system, it provides a physical barrier to colonisation by harmful microbes. That’s where eating fermented foods like sauerkraut and live bio yogurt, and drinking fermented drinks like Kefir and Kombucha will introduce beneficial bacteria and help the balance of bacteria in your digestive system.

Adopting these strategies to reduce inflammation can greatly help with recovery from injury, improve immunity and gut health enabling you to focus on sports performance.

Joanne Jackson is a Cardiff-based nutritional therapist who has seen in clinic how diet and lifestyle directly impact upon energy, concentration, mood, and ability to handle day to day stress, and has developed nutrition programmes which gives people the knowledge and tools they need to look after their own health and wellbeing. She addresses common every day health concerns and offer simple and practical meal and snack suggestions to beat energy slumps, feel clear headed & focused, lose weight, boost mood and concentration, and safeguard your health.

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