Toby Davies has a BSc in Sports Coaching and Nutrition. Six months ago he decided to put his knowledge into action and use nutrition to support his gym regime helping to lose some weight as well as fulfill his ambition to compete in a natural bodybuilding competition. One key ingredient in his nutritionally powerful diet was watercress.
6 Reasons Why Watercress is Good for Athletic Performance
1) High Antioxidant Content – Antioxidants protect cell damage caused by toxins such as free radicals. These are molecules that can cause and lead to oxidative stress especially after a weight lifting session when the muscles and cells in the body experience inflammation through stress put on them throughout the workout.
2) Boosts Immune System – Watercress has very high levels of vitamin c (15mg per 34 grams of watercress which is 20% of the RDI for women and 17% for men). When training and dieting for my competitions my body is put into a state of stress due to very low body fat levels which can therefore put huge strain on the immune system.
3) The nutrient density in watercress – it has been suggested that watercress may aid body fat loss due to 68 grams only containing 8 calories. Therefore I add 100g to my meal in the evening as it fills me up and provides satiety before bed as well as adding vital nutrients to my meal.
4) Enhances Nitric oxide during exercise – Nitrates are found in watercress, these help relax blood vessels and increase the amount of nitric oxide during exercise. Nitric oxide widens the blood vessels during exercise, this means a more efficient delivery of oxygen and nutrients to the working muscles.
5) Protects against DNA damage caused by exercise - scientific research has shown that exercise increases DNA damage, as well as increasing lipid peroxidation. Watercress consumed chronically or acutely reduces DNA damage. This was also shown in Channel 4 programme, Superfoods - the Real Story, where presenter Kate Quilton demonstrated the positive effects of eating watercress prior to exercise, reducing her DNA damage by 7% vs when not eaten
6) It’s quick, easy and tastes great and can be added to a variety of meals – I have watercress with nearly every meal as a side salad mixed with some rocket or spinach.
Toby explains how he came to the decision that his diet had to change:
We all want to be healthy and in good shape nowadays. The fitness industry is a huge business with at least two gyms in every town and the introduction of 24-hour gyms means no one has an excuse not to get to the gym and workout. Many people do find time for the gym but the real day to day struggle is our diet! For one hour a day we can workout and feel good about ourselves, however the other twenty-three we are tempted by a range of fast foods and foods high in salt and sugar.
A year ago, I thought ‘enough was enough’ and after putting on three stone in weight and reaching a high of 102 kg (16 stone) I realised it was time to take a serious look at my nutrition. I was sleeping terribly and getting out of breath performing the simplest of tasks, even though I was religiously going to the gym 6 days a week. When I looked at my nutrition I found that I was neglecting green vegetables and salads and just eating carbohydrates and protein. My body was craving the micro-nutrients and vitamins that salads and vegetables provide. I started to lose weight thanks to my new diet and the introduction of foods such as watercress.
Then I decided I needed a bigger challenge so I set myself the goal 6 months ago of competing in a natural bodybuilding competition. To do this I really needed to focus and adopt a disciplined approach.
5 disciplines to achieving your fitness goals:
1. Organisation - Be organised with your time, whether in terms of planning time in your day to go to the gym or complete 10,000 steps. Your life doesn’t have to revolve around the gym, but if you make time by getting up earlier or setting a routine and structure to your day it will make life easier.
2. Preparation - Preparing your meals for the next day. Preparing your lunch and snacks for when you’re at work will mean you will have a lot more discipline in terms of eating healthily. Turning up to work with no food will only mean lots of snacking on biscuits and a cheap meal deal from the local supermarket.
3. Hard Work - Push yourself mentally and physically. Set a goal that means a lot to you and that you are determined to achieve. Then push yourself as hard as you can to achieve it.
4. Setting S.M.A.R.T. Goals – Use the anagram S.M.A.R.T. to set your goals.
· Specific – A well defined goal
· Measurable – Your goals should be measurable so you can see progress e.g. a certain weight or a certain time to row 2000m
· Achievable – Within your ability, knowledge, resources and time frame
· Relevant – Your target smart goal should be relevant to your long term goal and be regarded as stepping stones to help you achieve it
· Timing – Enough time to achieve the goal without too long a time frame so that motivation doesn’t drop off
5. Support – Support from friends and family can have a huge impact on your drive and determination. By sharing your goal on social media or with close family and friends you have set your stall out and people will encourage you to achieve your goals. When you are feeling de-motivated or like giving up, the support from others can give you the boost you need to succeed.
My ambition to compete in a drug free, natural bodybuilding competition meant I had to stick to a very strict diet and workout regime. I was up at 5am to go to the gym to do fasted cardio for 45 minutes before work, then after work I went back to the gym to perform a weights session. I was doing this 5/6 days a week and was only able to sustain this due to my determination to reach my goal. Along the way I would set target SMART goals for every week such as losing 1lb of body fat a week or to get 8 hours sleep every night. When I succeeded with these I would get a sense of achievement and renewed motivation going into the next week.
It got to a stage where I was getting very hungry the whole time and I needed to find something that would add nutrients to my meals but also fill me up. This is when watercress became a staple in my diet leading up to the competition.
After a lot of research, I found that not only can you eat large amounts of watercress without it impacting your weight due to its low calorific content but it also contains essential nutrients that can really help increase athletic performance.
The benefits of consuming watercress are huge and it has been a staple food in my diet for the last 6 months. I competed in the UK drug free bodybuilding associations (UKDFBA) Heart of England regional qualifier competition on Sunday 16 September and am happy to say that I won my class - the novice heavyweight category. I was up against nine other bodybuilders who had worked extremely hard and sacrificed a lot in preparing for the competition just like I had.
I am now preparing for the UKDFBA British Finals in Coventry on the 21st October. I learnt a lot from my first show and the lead up to it and am now incorporating those learnings into my preparations for the finals. One of them is having a bag of watercress every evening with my meal or in my smoothie, not only to help my athletic performance but to add great flavouring and taste to my meals.