Nutrition for Cardio Exercise

Cardiovascular exercise is an important part of keeping healthy, and the number of people taking part in running, cycling, swimming and other forms of cardiovascular exercise is growing. Although...
Nutrition for cardio exercise

Cardiovascular exercise is an important part of keeping healthy, and the number of people taking part in running, cycling, swimming and other forms of cardiovascular exercise is growing. Although cardiovascular exercise is needed to be healthy, it needs to go alongside proper nutrition. Many people partake in cardiovascular exercise without much though of their diet and soon find that they are unable to continue or progress at the level they want because their body is unable to cope with the added stress that is exercise gives. This article will explore the effects of cardiovascular exercise on the body, and the nutritional requirements needed to ensure you maintain your health.


Cardio exercise and your body

Cardiovascular exercise is considered to be aerobic exercise, which means ‘with oxygen’. Aerobic exercise is low intensity exercise over a long period of time, such as running/ jogging, swimming and cycling. The opposite of this is anaerobic exercise, which is intense exercise over a short period of time such as sprinting or weight training. Aerobic exercise means that your respiratory/ circulatory system is able to supply enough oxygen to the muscles which prevents lactic acid forming – allowing you to exercise for long periods of time. Cardiovascular exercising over a long period of time is likely to have some anaerobic activity, but should be predominantly aerobic.

Cardiovascular exercise can be for any period of time from fifteen minuets to a few hours. During this period your body has a massive demand for energy, particularly the cells which make up the cardiovascular system, and the muscle cells which are performing the exercise (e.g leg muscles if you are running). In order for these cells to produce usable energy (ATP) a substrate such as sugar (if cardiovascular exercise is for a long period of time fats will be used) must be metabolised in the mitochondria of our cells to produce ATP. A bi-product of this energy production is a very powerful and damaging radical called a superoxide radical. To combat the negative effects of this radical, our body produces an enzyme called superoxide dismutase which targets and neutralizes this radical. Other antioxidants such as vitamin C are also able to neutralize this radical as well. However, if exercise is prolonged, the natural defences of the body may not be able to defend against this radical at the same rate it is being produced, meaning it can damage the surrounding tissue. This can reduce muscle recovery, increase the feeling of fatigue and can increase the risk of developing an injury or illness.


Diet and cardio exercise

Carbohydrates for cardio

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Macro-nutrients – When you partake in cardiovascular exercise regularly, and especially for long distances, it is important you are obtaining enough calories from carbohydrates and fats to fuel and replenish your body during and after exercise. This doesn’t mean you can eat lots of crisps and chocolate though, and it is important you obtain these nutrients from high quality sources. Examples of sources of these nutrients are oats, rice and quinoa for carbohydrates, and olive oil, coconut oil, nuts and seeds for fats. When you exercise for long periods of time, your energy stores will rapidly deplete, and so it is important to ensure that they are replenished, which will allow greater recovery and avoid damage. If you are not obtaining enough healthy macro-nutrients then you are at risk of using too much of the fat in your body. Early signs of this is characterized by a condition called ‘runners face’, which is where all the fatty tissue in the face has been used for energy production resulting in a gaunt and thin face. If this continues, you increase your risk of illness and greatly increase your risk of damaging your body. This is because body fat fulfils more roles in the body than just an energy store, and is responsible for insulating, cushioning and protecting vital organs, joints and muscles.

With cardiovascular, your protein demand will only slightly increase, and the average protein consumption of people in the UK is suitable to meet this demand. Therefore, it is not needed to increase your protein consumption unless perhaps you are follow a vegetarian or vegan diet.

Micro-nutrients – As explained earlier, exercise produces radicals, and the more you exercise, the more radicals you produce which can lead to large amounts of radical damage to your muscles. In order to combat the increased amount of radicals, you should obtain more antioxidants (such as vitamin C and E) from your diet, or through supplementation, as these vitamins are able to neutralize radicals throughout the body. Great sources of vitamin C include broccoli, peppers and oranges, and vitamin E can be obtained from nuts and seeds, or oils derived from nuts or seeds. Your body is also able to synthesise enzymes to neutralize these radicals, and to ensure your body can produce these enzymes, minerals such as zinc, magnesium and selenium are needed by the body. All of these minerals can be obtained from nuts and seeds, and are also present in a number of vegetables. If you are unable to effectively neutralize the radicals that are produced during exercise you will increase your recovery time, and increase your risk of damage and infection.



Cardiovascular exercise is an important part of maintaining a healthy body, but, can have negative effects if your diet doesn’t meet your nutritional demand. If you partake in cardiovascular exercise regularly and for long periods of time, you need to ensure you are feeding your body enough high quality fats and carbohydrates to allow your body to replenish and repair itself. It is also important to ensure your able able to protect your body from the increased amount of radicals by ensuring you are obtaining vitamins E and C as-well as magnesium, zinc and selenium.

Main image courtesy of brahul90

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