I gave a Sports Nutrition lecture/workshop this past weekend - so lately I’ve been focused even more than usual on nutrition and athletic performance. I believe that you what you eat affects their performance arguably as much as your physical training. Have you examined your training diet lately? You might be in the best shape of your life, but if you’re not eating for peak performance you may not be reaching your full athletic potential. Or, maybe you recognize the importance of sports nutrition, but get lazy when it comes to preparing meals and eating wisely. Or, maybe you eat healthfully but have gotten into a nutrition rut by consuming the same foods day after day.
Whichever category you fall into, now is a good time to take a nutrition inventory and clean up your training table. A nutritious diet can also improve your recovery from hard workouts and injuries. Furthermore, being in great shape doesn’t make you invulnerable to cancer or even heart disease so it’s important to eat well for long-term health, not just the 10K your running or century you’re cycling next weekend.
Get Out of Your Food Rut
You burn out on food by eating the same things day after day the same way you do by performing the same workouts week after week. Are you getting sick of chicken and eggs? Try ostrich, buffalo, tempeh, tofu. Are you tired of oatmeal and brown rice? Try quinoa or millet. Are your vegetable selections limited to spinach and broccoli? Try mustard greens, brussel sprouts or bok choy. Or try a new ethnic food or restaurant. Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, Indian and Tai foods can all be a nutritious and tantalizing part of your training table.
Fast Food Does Not Make You Faster
Next time you drive by a McDonalds, keep driving. Fast food is fine once in awhile when nothing else is available, but don’t make a habit out of it. You can probably afford the extra calories, but fast food also contains excess sugar, sodium and saturated fat. Grocery store delis, submarine sandwich shops and bagelries are good alternatives when you’re short on time and money. Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods have sandwiches and salads freshly prepared daily. Stick with lean protein sources, whole grain breads and go easy on the mayo. Supplement your meal with fruit or a side salad.
Get into the Snack Habit
Frequent snacking aids in keeping your blood sugar level which in turn helps sustain your energy level by continually replenishing your muscle glycogen stores. Make a habit of snacking on convenient, healthful foods, such as fresh and dried fruit, yogurt, hard boiled eggs, turkey jerky, whole grain crackers or pretzels. Carry them in your workout bag and your car and stash them in your desk at work. (see some more snacking ideas at the end of this blog).
Balance and Moderation
Just like physical training, nutritional training all comes down to balance and moderation. There are no magic foods, instead the optimal training diet incorporates a variety of wholesome choices from the four food groups as well as some well-earned treats (in moderation of course). It’s also important to get a balance of calories from carbohydrate (45-65%), protein (15-25%) and fat (15-39%).
More Food For Thought
The following are additional tips for spicing up your diet:
- Have dinner for breakfast (and breakfast for dinner)
Don’t think of breakfast foods as strictly for breakfast. Particularly if you work out in the late afternoon or evening, you may want to make lunch your most substantial meal and eat a lighter breakfast food, such as oatmeal and a fruit/yogurt smoothie or whole grain toast and scrambled eggs, in the evening. Conversely, if you do most of your heavy training in the morning, you may want to substitute your morning cereal with traditional stick-to-your ribs dinner fare. (I must confess I sometimes include salmon and even lean meat in my breakfast after a hard interval workout).
- Explore a farmer’s market
For the freshest local produce head to your local farmer’s market. You can’t beat the freshness of locally grown, seasonal organic produce and often it’s sold at bargain prices.
- Clean out your fridge
I realize this might be a scary endeavor, but it’s time to clean out the old before bringing in the new. Ditch leftovers and make room for the healthy foods you’re going to buy.
- Incorporate new recipes
Make one night a week recipe night and try a new recipe from a cookbook or food magazine.