Healthy nutrition for the squash player – Eat a rainbow!

28th October 2013

In such a physically challenging game as squash, it is vital that players who are serious about training to improve their skills and sport-specific conditioning take the time to consider the importance of their dietary choices.

Healthy eating is vital for supporting the body’s physiological processes, and helping to repair the joints and muscles exposed to such high volumes of physical stress.

A key part of an appropriately formulated healthy diet is the oft-touted ‘5 a day’ fruit or vegetables, but which actual fruits and veg should we be aiming to take in, and are some significantly better than others?

The ‘5 a day’ recommendation originates from the World Health Organisation, who advise that individuals should consume a minimum of 400g of fruit and vegetables per day.

Different countries around the world have taken this on and promoted it in different way, and in countries such as the UK and United States this has actually recently been extended to a suggested intake of closer to 10 portions of fruit and vegetables a day – more info on what exactly constitutes a ‘portion’ can be found here on the NHS website.

For the active person, and particularly so for those who partake regularly in such a physically demanding sport as squash, this firm base of quality nutritional intake is crucial. While it isn’t a perfect analogy, the food we take in (and the constituent vitamins and minerals contained there-within) can be seen as the fuel our bodies use to power the physiological processes that drive our on-court training/playing (and subsequent recovery), in the same way that the petrol and oil you put in your car fuels your road journeys.

There are a wide range of different vitamins and minerals that we need to take in through our diet for optimal functioning. With so many varieties of fruit and veg staring back at us from the supermarket shelves however, it can be difficult to know where to start in terms of appropriate choices to hit all of the bases.

The media picks up on so-called ‘superfoods’ from time to time, from acai berries to pomegranates to wheatgrass, but the reality is that nearly all plant based foods contain valuable nutrients – it’s difficult to categorically place one type as ‘better’ than another, so we need to ideally get as much variety as we can.

This is where the concept of ‘eating the rainbow’ comes in.

As well as the variety of vitamins and minerals that fruit and vegetables contain, they also contain natural chemical compounds called ‘phytochemicals’ – it is these phytochemicals that influence the colour of fruits and veg. These phytochemicals work synergistically with the vitamins, minerals, and fibre content of fruits and vegetables to provide the various different types and varieties with their own individual health benefits and contributions to optimal function.

There are various different classifications of colour categories, but one of the more recognised and comprehensive is that proposed by prominent nutrition experts Susan Bowerman and David Heber.

Bowerman & Heber coded plant foods into categories including:

Red (e.g. Tomatoes, Watermelon, Pink Grapefruit, Guava, Cranberries)
Blue/Purple (e.g. Blueberries, Blackberries, Prunes, Plums)
Green (e.g. Broccoli, Cabbage, Brussel Sprouts)
Yellow/Green (e.g. Avocado, Kiwi Fruit, Spinach, Leafy Greens)
Yellow/Orange (e.g. Carrots, Mangos, Squash, Sweet Potato, Pumpkins, Apricot).

A large class of phytochemicals called ‘flavonoids’ are also of great benefit to the body, though these are largely colourless – Bowerman and Heber recommend that we incorporate these liberally into our food intake as well, so things like ginger, garlic, mushrooms, turnips, and bananas that they are difficult to classify due to being less brightly coloured or even ‘non-coloured’, can be seen to make up another category all of their own.

There’s a good article here that goes into a little more depth about what nutrients the different colour/shade foods tend to be higher in.

The idea of set ‘ratios’ of different colours is still not an exact science, but certainly endeavouring to include a wide intake from all of the different colour categories in your food choices is a great way to help ensure that you are getting the greatest range of nutrients. Eating a range of fruits of different hues, and making salads with as many different colours contained in each serving as possible is the perfect way to cover all of the bases.

Quality whole-food selections should be the base of any healthy diet, and the nutritional choices you make will go a long way to making sure that your body is receiving all of the vitamins & minerals and innate goodness necessary to play and compete at your highest physical level.

Give yourself an immediate advantage by ‘eating a rainbow’ every day! 

Gary Nisbet

B.Sc.(Hons), CSCS, NSCA-CPT, Dip. FTST
SquashSkills Fitness & Performance Director