1. They Aid Digestion
Fruits and vegetables are usually high in fibre, and having sufficient fibre intake is important for digestive function.
To digest food is to break it down, so that we can get the nutrients out of it, to be used in the body. For Example, We can’t get the glucose from complex carbohydrates, or the amino acids from protein, without first breaking them down.
Soluble fibre (from foods like the flesh of apples and pears, berries, oats, beans, nuts, seeds etc.) form a ‘gel’ with the food, which may slow down the movement of food through the digestive system, allowing your body to absorb the nutrients in that food.
On the other hand, Insoluble fibre (from foods like fruit skin, leafy vegetables, broccoli, bread, brown rice etc.) provides the food with bulk, accelerating the body’s drive to pass the food through, allowing the removal of the food after we’ve gotten the nutrients from it.
For these reasons, it’s important to get plenty of both types in. Luckily, most fibre-rich foods, contain both forms.
Eating a wide range of fruit and veg can go a long way towards optimising your fibre intake.
Recommendation: 10g of fibre per 1000 kcal consumed is a good place to start, meaning that someone consuming 3000 kcal daily would aim to eat 30g of fibre per day.
2. They Keep You Full
For many athletes, hunger isn’t much of an issue, due to the relatively large calorie intake, but some still struggle with it, particularly when eating less in an effort to lose weight.
Given the fact that most fruits and vegetables are relatively low in calories compared to their volume, including more can mean eating more food volume, without adding a lot of calories, and even reducing calories.
3. They Provide Vitamins and Minerals (Micronutrients)
It’s not clear whether or not athletes should be recommended to eat more micronutrients than non-athletes. Some say that the increased demand on the body requires more micronutrition, whilst others say that the usually increased food intake of athletes means that they end up getting more in anyway. Either way, we can say that athletes shouldn’t be lacking when it comes to micronutrient intake.
Vitamins are essential nutrients that the body usually cannot produce enough of, and which it needs to get from food. These include the fat-soluble vitamins, A,D,E, and K, and the water-soluble B vitamins and vitamin C. They facilitate a huge number of varying roles within the body, including energy production, cellular repair, skin health, improving and immune system function, among many other things.
Minerals are also crucial to maintaining the overall health and functionality of your body. These include things like sodium, potassium, magnesium, chloride, calcium, iron and zinc, among others. They are also involved in many functions in the body, including fluid balance, the transmission of signals to muscles, muscle contractions, maintenance of structures like bone, and hormonal regulation.
The recommended 5-a-day is well known to all, but getting up towards an 8-10 per day mark might be a better place to aim for as an athlete, given that you are likely to be consuming a lot more food than most people anyway, given your energy demands, and because there may be more demand for micronutrients, given the extra stress on your body.
A multivitamin can also help, and specific vitamin/mineral supplements can be used to counteract potential deficiencies, but these shouldn’t be seen as an alternative to consuming fruits and vegetables.
4. They Help with Hydration
Given that water makes up over 50% of your body, and that water is being removed throughout the day via urination, breathing, and sweating, it is crucial that we are replacing it, by consuming enough water.
Doing so allows the body to better regulate its temperature (important during training), digest food, transport nutrients around the body, lubricate joints, improve many other biological processes.
As an athlete or training enthusiast, where you tend to be training often and hard, and therefore tend to sweat more than non-athletes, it can be difficult to meet your hydration requirements through water alone.
Some fruits and vegetables are even made up of over 90% water, meaning that whatever volume of that fruit you consume is almost equivalent to consuming that volume of water. e.g. if you eat a piece of watermelon the size of a glass, that is almost the equivalent of drinking a glass of water.
Some fruits/vegetables that are over 90% water are:
Apart from the replacement of fluids, proper hydration also depends on having adequate electrolyte balance. Electrolytes are salts that are often found in foods and drinks, and they include sodium, potassium, calcium, chloride and magnesium. They play a key role in the electrical signalling systems in the body that affect the heart, muscles and nerves, and they also help regulate fluid balance in the body.