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Today’s guest post is by Brett Warren. Brett is a biochemical engineer from Boston, Massachusetts who develops sports supplements for Force Factor. He has done extensive research on nutrition and is an expert on nutraceutical science. He also has a passion for fitness and health. Brett’s work at Force Factor is supplemented by an active family life with plenty of gym time and outdoor recreation. Today, Brett writes about how you can take your performance to the next level by carefully planning your meals. – Kate
For athletes, eating is a conscious process that requires knowledge and planning. I tell athletes that maintaining the right nutritional balance for your sport and maximum performance isn’t complicated as long as you have a meal plan and make that planning a routine.
Performance outcomes can differ by seconds, and the difference can be in nutritional preparation. Every bite that you put in your mouth counts. Most athletes know this, but some don’t understand, or forget, why a heavy steak dinner makes lunges significantly more brutal the next day. Others rely on vitamins and supplements, which should never replace real food. I knew a body builder who used to say “I don’t eat because I’m hungry. I eat to feed my muscles.” That’s a bit extreme.
Each athlete is unique but learning precisely how certain foods and combinations of foods help performance is vital to success. Your body needs the nutrition from food to build strong, pliable muscle tissue and repair the punishment you’re putting it through. Proper nourishment every day should give you enough carbohydrate and fat energy, protein, vitamins, minerals, and water. But you can’t make a meal plan without some guidelines. So here are my simple steps for getting the right nutrition every day.
- Vary your diet. A varied diet that meets energy needs and includes essential vitamins and minerals includes vegetables, fruits, beans, legumes, cereals, lean meats, fish and dairy foods. Try new foods and new recipes regularly, eat fresh foods in season, and mix and match foods at meals. Include fruits and vegetables at every meal. Go for the fruits and vegetables that are strong in color; they’re high in anti-oxidants. The International Association of Athletic Federations suggests these colors: white (cauliflowers, bananas, onions, potatoes), green (broccoli, lettuce, green apples, grapes), blue/purple (blueberries, plums, purple grapes, raisins), orange/yellow (carrots, apricots, peaches, oranges, cantaloupe, mangoes) and red (tomatoes, watermelon, cherries, red apples, red peppers).
- Don’t skip meals. You need the energy they store. Limit the portion size of your meals, but avoid getting hungry between meals by drinking plenty of water and by planning nutritious snacks that combine carbohydrates and protein. Some examples: breakfast cereal with milk and fruit, fruit with flavored yogurt, a fruit smoothie or liquid meal supplement, a sandwich with meat and greens, meat or chicken stir-fry with vegetables and rice or noodles.
- Get your protein. Protein builds and repairs muscles but you can get it from everyday foods if you plan your meals to vary your diet. The IAAF suggest that eating a small amount of protein after training or competition might help promote adaptations taking place in the muscles. An athlete’s meal plan doesn’t rule out vegetarian meals or a vegetarian diet. Here are some protein-rich foods: eggs, whole milk, skim milk, cheese, yogurt, meat, fish, chicken, bread, cereal, pasta, rice, soy milk, nuts, seeds, tofu, lentils, baked beans, fruit smoothie, liquid meal supplement.
- Concentrate on carbs. There is confusion. Low-carb diets are recommended to lose weight. But that doesn’t apply to athletes, who need the energy from carbohydrates in order to perform. The primary fuel for muscles is carbohydrates. They provide calories, they help with muscle recovery, they help store energy in the form of oxygen within muscle tissue and they are quick and easy way to maintain blood sugar levels. Different athletes might need to eat different amounts of carbohydrates depending on the sport and training program. Try these high-glycemic carbs during or immediately after exercise: corn flakes, pretzels, instant mashed potatoes, vanilla wafers, french fries, graham crackers, saltines, honey, bagels, watermelon, white bread. Try these moderate- and low-glycemic carbs as a regular part of your diet: wheat bread, shredded wheat, cream of wheat, cantaloupe, raisins, vanilla ice cream, cheese pizza, blueberry muffin, power bars, pear, banana, cheese tortellini, linguine, chocolate bar, carrots, peas, oatmeal, orange juice, grapes, macaroni, baked beans, orange, apple juice, tomato soup, apple, chocolate milk, spaghetti, fettuccine, grapefruit and cherries.
- Feed your bones. Calcium builds healthy bones. Eat dairy foods such as low-fat milk, cheese or yogurt, soy milk, soy yogurt, fish with bones in it and leafy green vegetables. Female athletes are at risk for iron deficiencies, so I tell them to get it from red meat in three to five meals a week, eat iron-fortified cereals, and combine foods that have iron (legumes, cereals, eggs and green leafy vegetables) with factors that help iron absorption (Vitamin C, fruit juice, meat, fish and chicken, and meat with beans).
Finally, why that heavy steak dinner the night before a workout is a bad idea: Red meat is high in protein but also high in fat and slow to digest. Red meat should be eaten in small amounts. And many fitness experts say any last big meal before competition should be eaten 12 hours before it.
Thanks for your insights, Brett! What are your favorite meals to eat for performance?
Photo Credit Marcel Batlle
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