Your Sports Diet: Quality calories for weight management?
In our busy day-to-day lives, relying on ultra-processed foods for energy may be detrimental to your weight and overall health.
If you are like most triathletes, you are busy juggling work, workouts, family and life. You likely eat meals and snacks on the run, grabbing an energy bar here, a frozen meal there, and a protein shake to go. You can easily fuel yourself with highly processed foods that are ready to heat and/or ready to eat.
While you can choose a nutritionally well-balanced sports diet when eating on the run, you might want to pay attention to the amount of ultra-processed foods that sneak into your meals and snacks. They have a food matrix far different from natural foods, and they might have an impact on your weight and health.
What are ultra-processed foods?
Cooked eggs, canned beans and dried raisins are all considered processed foods. Technically speaking, a processed food is one that has been altered from its original form. The foods have been cooked, dried, or canned in a way that’s safe for your health.
Ultra-processed foods include fast foods, sugary drinks, chips, candies, sweetened cereals, etc. They span the spectrum from minimally processed foods that are prepared to make them edible (bran flakes) to industrial formulations with five or more ingredients (Cap’n Crunch). Ultra-processed foods commonly have added flavours, sugars, fats, preservatives and ingredients that you are unlikely to have stocked in your pantry, like sodium benzoate. These foods are designed to be convenient, ready to eat, palatable, affordable and welcomed as replacements for freshly prepared meals and snacks.
More than half the calories consumed in the US come from ultra-processed foods (think packaged soups, instant noodles, frozen meals, hot dogs, cake mixes.) The foods tend to be high in calories, salt, and fat, and low in fibre. Ultra-processed foods can be marketed as natural, healthy and organic (those words don’t refer to the process of how the food was made.) Yes, your favourite all-natural, organic energy bar likely counts as an ultra-processed food.