Athletes can greatly improve their performance and recovery through enhanced nutrient timing—and food is the key. Take your body to a new level of fitness with the proper eating frequency, nutrient timing, balance of macronutrients (carbohydrate/protein/fat), pre-training fuel, in-training fuel, and post-training fuel.
Proper eating frequency is one of the major keys to success.
Keep this rule in mind: fuel your body immediately upon waking up in the morning. When you wake up, you are naturally dehydrated and your muscle glycogen stores are low. Glycogen is fuel for your body that’s stored in your muscles and liver. Whether you train in the morning or go to work, your body needs to be fueled and hydrated immediately.
Now that you have fueled your body after waking, you must keep your body properly fueled every 2.5-3.5 hours.
Food is like wood for the fire. The fire inside of your body is your metabolism, and you need to keep it burning hot. More than three hours between eating can lead to a slowdown of your metabolism, decreased energy levels, and a decrease in serotonin levels, which can lead to excessive food cravings and binge eating. Serotonin is a hormone that affects your mood and appetite. When your serotonin levels are low, you can begin to crave unhealthy foods.
With your body now being fueled frequently throughout the day, it’s time to bridge the gap between eating “healthy” and eating “right.”
Eating healthy is not the key to success—eating right is the key. Eating right means the proper balance of the three macronutrients (carbohydrate, protein, and fat) at each meal or snack. As a general rule, the balance you are looking to achieve at every meal or snack is 45-60% of calories coming from carbohydrates, 15-30% of calories from protein, and 15-30% of calories from fat. For example, instead of having 1/2 cup of oatmeal with 1/2 cup of skim milk for breakfast (oatmeal is healthy, but, it is not “right” because it is only one macronutrient: carbohydrate), add a protein and a fat to make this healthy breakfast “right.” The “healthy breakfast” will give you the following: 344 calories, 78% carbohydrate, 18% protein, and 4% fat. Now make this breakfast “right” with the following changes: 1/3 cup of oatmeal with 1/2 cup of skim milk, and two eggs (the eggs will serve as your protein and fat). This breakfast will give you the following: 429 calories, 55% carbohydrate, 30% protein, and 15% fat.
Make sure you top off the tank before your next workout.
Too often, athletes do not fuel their body properly prior to a morning workout. Many believe working out first thing in the morning without eating is a good way to lose weight. However, not fueling your body prior to a workout will actually inhibit you from changing your body composition, which can lead to decreased performance during the workout. The results is a downward spiral of poor recovery, causing more lackluster workouts in the subsequent days. No matter what time of day you train, pre-training fuel is critical. Feeding your body helps keep your muscle glycogen stores loaded, which will result in high quality performance at each workout. You want to keep your fire stoked.
Feed your body 15-60 minutes before the start of your workout, taking into account that each individual is different in terms of how their digestive system reacts to foods. For most, a solid pre-training fuel source 60 minutes before a workout is fine. Liquid calories prior to a workout are a great choice, especially if you are fueling your body within a short window of time. Smoothies make a great pre-training fuel, as they are easy on the stomach and are quickly digested and absorbed. A pre-workout, high-octane smoothie should contain approximately 55-60% carbohydrate, 20-25% protein, and 20-25% fat.
Now, you must keep the fuel going during your training session.
Depending on the duration and intensity of each workout, calorie consumption and hydration is critical for optimum performance. Fueling during a workout may be a new concept for some athletes. Athletes will often consume water during a workout, but rarely do they consume the necessary calories and electrolytes to help maximize performance. In-training fuel can come from liquids or semi-solids. Liquid fuel can consist of your favorite fluid replacement drink mixed with a maltodextrin powder (complex carbohydrate powder). This mixture is an ideal fuel source, as it will provide your body with calories and electrolytes in a very low viscosity solution. Semi-solid fuel sources, such as energy gels, are easily digested and make a great in-training fuel source. In addition to these calories, your body may also require additional electrolytes (sodium, potassium, magnesium, and calcium) to aid in performance and recovery and prevent cramping. Each individual’s electrolytes needs vary. During training, your body can lose at least one liter of sweat per one hour and 1,000-2,000mg of sodium per hour. If you sweat profusely, consider using electrolyte capsules during training. No matter what your fuel source of choice is, be sure to drink plenty of water.
Post-workout, your body can become dehydrated and depleted of glycogen. Be sure to reload in order to optimize recovery so you can put together another great effort during your next workout.
Immediately following your workout, consume fuel containing predominantly carbohydrates (this will reload your glycogen) and amino acids (this will assist in muscle recovery/repair). Recovery fuel sources can vary from sports supplements to something as simple as a peanut butter sandwich or a smoothie containing fruit and protein powder (or another protein source such as Greek yogurt). Add some peanut butter to your smoothie for a nice macronutrient balance. A post-workout, high-octane refuel source should contain approximately 55-60% carbohydrate, 20-25% protein, and 20-25% fat.
Use the above Performance Enhanced Nutrient Timing and you will find yourself performing and recovering better than ever from each training session. Remember, a great workout is not about feeling depleted and needing multiple days to recover—rather, you want to string together multiple great workouts by fueling properly to recover quickly for the next scheduled workout.