One of my favourite phrases as a personal trainer is “a car needs the correct fuel just as your body does. If you put enough but the wrong fuel in, this is just as bad as not enough fuel.”
A balance of carbohydrates, proteins, fats, minerals, vitamins and water are recommended to give your body the fuel for optimum performance. We are all different and we will need an individual combination of these elements. Some of us will need more carbohydrate and some will need more fats, whichever type your body is here are some important reasons to include these food groups to enhance your performance.
I sometimes have a packet of Pure Bite Nut Clusters just to give me a little boost pre or post work-out but generally speaking, here’s what you need to consider for your diet:
Carbohydrates or “carbs” are found in a wide variety of foods including pasta, bread, cereals, rice, grains, potatoes, fruit, vegetables and some dairy products. The importance for athletes is the supply of glucose for energy to the body. Excess glucose is stored in the muscles and liver as glycogen, which is your energy reserve.
During intense but short bursts of energy expenditure such as sprinting, powerlifting or football the body is reliant on glycogen to keep the blood sugar stabilised and consequently maintaining your energy. If your supply is deficient you may feel tired during your efforts and possibly have difficulty maintaining your activity. The consequence would be a huge impact on your performance.
During activities of longer endurance the body will utilise the glycogen first and when depleted it will then turn to the bodies fat store as its energy source.
Fat is a significantly important energy source for activities such as hiking, cycling and endurance events. If your diet is too low in dietary fat it may decrease your athletic performance and cause other issues, such as vitamin deficiencies as they require fat to be absorbed. Repair and recovery are also completely reliant on fats so it is essential to include sources such as avocados, salmon, nuts, nut butters and olive oils.
We cannot discuss athlete performance without the inclusion of protein that is essential to build and repair muscles. Small amounts can sometimes be utilised for energy. Most of us know where to find a good protein source but I prefer to eat my protein in the form of lean meats such as turkey, chicken and eggs. I use a Vegan protein shake as a supplementation.
Vitamins and minerals are not a source of energy but they perform important functions in the body. For example vitamin D and calcium are required for strong bones, iron is needed for blood cells to transport oxygen throughout your body.
The electrolyte minerals such as potassium and sodium are essential during exercise as they affect the water levels in your body and how efficient your muscles will work. Therefore, to maximise your performance an athlete should eat a variety of foods and a well balanced diet. You perhaps would consider taking a greens and reds superfood supplement or a daily vitamin boost to complete your essential profile. Do not over consume any vitamin in particular as it could detrimentally effect performance and could actually be harmful.
Water is an absolute essential for maintaining your hydration. In terms of performance dehydration can lead to muscle cramps, dizziness or lightheadedness. It can also cause issues with your thought processing for decision making during your activity. It can lead to bad decisions and bad form and thus injury is more possible. Dehydration can be extremely dangerous and definitely would effect your performance.
So my top tips are-
1) Eat a variety of foods to ensure differing nutrients.
2) Eat regular meals and snacks. Skipping meals WILL hurt your performance. Maintain your fuel as essentials for athletic events.
3) Eat sufficient or a surplus of calories to fuel your body and replace your spent energy during training and performance events. Cutting calories can effect your performance especially for strength and recovery speed post workout.
4) Drink plenty of fluids. Drink before you are thirsty. It is beneficial to not reach a point at which you feel thirsty. Athletes require more fluids than non athletes so keep this in mind especially in warmer conditions.
5) Avoid energy sapping products. Sodas, sugary coffee or energy drinks can give you a buzz but are more than likely to cause a crash too. Choose water, low fat milk, unsweetened almond milk, or flavoured water with zero sugar.
Fuelling your exercise.
The food you eat can have an enormous effect on your athletic performance as can the timings of the food. One of my favourite meals the night before an endurance event is sweet potato, chicken and avocado. You need to fuel your body, prevent hunger and prevent a drop in blood sugar.
1) Eat a larger meal if you have 5 or 6 hours before your event or training. Eat a smaller meal if you only have 2 or 3 hours beforehand. Meals that are rich in complex carbs are great for fuelling your muscles. Pasta, potatoes, rice fruit and bagels made from sprouted buckwheat or the sprouted flours are a truly useful source.
2) Avoid high fibre foods such as broccoli, baked beans of bran as they may cause stomach pains due to the slow nature of the passing through the digestive system. Due to their high nutrient values though it is essential to include them in your meal plan at other times.
3) Sugars and sweets are not brilliant for providing lasting energy and are not my favourite recommendation for fuelling your exercise. If I do use something that is high GI, I accompany it with a serve of carb upload which levels out the glucose up take.
4) Limit the high fat foods such as fast food, eggs, meat and cheese in your pre exercise meal as they take longer to digest and may make you feel sluggish.
5) If you are competing, this is not the time to try a new food or a new combination. Stick with what you know works for you and experiment in between your performance events.
3-6 hours before - Fruit, veg, sprouted flour breads of bagels, nut butter, lean meat, dairy products, or a sprouted flour sandwich and drink plenty of water with fruit or vegetable juice.
2-3 hours before- granola bar and yoghurt or 1/2 a sprouted flour bagel with nut butter or oatmeal and fruit. Plenty of water and maybe some fruit juice.
1-2 hours before your event- eat fresh fruit, rice cakes or a cereal bar and drink plenty of water.
After your event or training session you need to refuel your body. You need to replace the bodies glycogen stores in the muscles in the first few hours after energy expenditure. You need to do this with some protein and carbs.
Even if you don’t feel hugely hungry try to eat something that fits the bill such as yoghurt and protein powder or maybe half a sandwich. You have a window of time in which this meal will be the most effective and it does differ from person to person, essentially though if you aim to consume this carb backloading meal within 30 minutes of your event or training, this will help the body recover quickly. Try to eat a larger meal that contains complex carbohydrates within the next 2-3 hours to replace the glycogen stores that you used up.