Athletes are one of a few populations that are likely to fall prey to fads that claim to improve their performance. There are many fads that are popular right now.
Let’s take a look at the scientific research that has been proven to be the best way for elite athletes to weekend warriors to fuel their body’s for peak performance.
Carbohydrates (whole grains, fruits, vegetables and low fat dairy products) are the main fuel for muscle activity and for brain function. Even if you are trying to lose body fat, 5060% of your diet should be comprised of carbohydrates. Fat burns in a carbohydrate fire, meaning you must have carbohydrates to burn fat efficiently.
Carbohydrates are also stored in your liver and muscle as glycogen to be easily broken down for energy. Severely lowered liver and muscle glycogen levels during exercise induces early fatigue and decreased intensity of exercise, despite an almost unlimited potential energy from stored fat in the body. If you are a marathoner, this is called “hitting the wall”. A cyclist may refer to it “bonking”.
Prior to exercise or competition you want to consume adequate low glycemic index carbohydrates that are digested and absorbed quickly as your main energy source along with a small amount of protein and fat. Aim for 0.5-2 grams of carbohydrate per pound 1-4 hours prior to exercise.
Examples of pre-workout snacks include:
1. Half a chicken, turkey or lean roast beef sandwich on whole-wheat bread
2. Low-fat yogurt with a sliced banana
3. Low-fat string cheese and 6 whole-grain cracker
4. Hard-boiled eggs, yolks removed and replaced with hummus
5. Skim milk blended with frozen fruit to make a smoothie
Many of my clients do not consume enough food and carbohydrates prior to exercise and it comes back to haunt them during exercise or later in the day. If you are exercising consistently for 90 minutes or longer, you should consume 60 grams of carbohydrates per hour after the first hour. This helps to spare muscle glycogen for later use and helps to maintain blood glucose.
I prefer my athletes consume 30 grams every 30 minutes to keep their blood sugar stable. Examples are: energy gels, sports drinks, energy chews, and energy bars.
Each athlete needs to find the best combination of foods that provide them the most energy and settle well with their digestive system.
A part of training nutrition that is easily overlooked is recovery nutrition. We are tempted to eat whatever we want after burning hundreds to thousands of calories, however, eating the right thing will prepare your body for that important next workout or competition. You want to consume moderate to high glycemic index carbohydrates within 30 minutes post exercise. Aim for 0.75 grams per pound of body weight of carbohydrates with some protein. One of the best recovery beverages is chocolate milk. It contains the correct ratio of carbohydrates and protein along with liquid to rehydrate you.
Other post-workout meal ideas include:
1. One or two poached eggs on whole-wheat toast with fruit
2. Bean burrito: a whole-wheat tortilla filled with black beans, salsa and reduced-fat cheese with a side of fruit
3. Stir-fried chicken and vegetables (try pepper, zucchini and carrot) over brown rice
4. Whole-wheat pasta tossed with chicken and vegetables
5. Whole-grain cereal or oatmeal, with milk and fruit (such as a sliced banana or berries)
Use the guidelines to help you make your personal peak performance nutrition plan. Everyone who trains hard should aim to reach their best potential!
Next month you will read about the role protein and fats have in performance as well as hydration.