Eating well means different things to different people, but for athletes, no matter if you are an elite or an everyday hard worker, you need to “eat well” to perform at your best.
To really know what that means, it's important to understand how our bodies use food as fuel and the direct impact it has on our performance.
How Our Muscles Use Food
Training causes damage to our muscles. These muscles then repair themselves during recovery so that their performance improves.
Eating provides our body with energy to perform tasks from the simplest involuntary brain functions to large scale bursts of energy-sapping physical movement.
In the digestive tract food is broken down at every stage into macro-nutrients principally carbohydrates, proteins and fats. Our muscles take this energy stored in food and convert it into heat and kinetic (motion) energy.
Good fuel v Bad fuel
So-called ‘good fuel’ means a preferred food source that is energy efficient. It will provide you with a clean source of direct energy with little waste. Whole foods, as a preferred fuel, are more complex and offer nutrients such as vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.
Bad fuel on the other hand is food that is incomplete in the information the body needs to operate effectively, food that is of no value to your body. It is therefore passed through to the large intestine to be processed ready to leave the body (which in itself uses up energy that could have been better targeted at the action required!)
These foods not only give you pointless wastage that your muscles cannot use, but they have other negative impacts on your performance such as energy spikes and crashes and poor recovery.
Types of Incomplete Food Sources or “Bad Fuel”
Think in these two simple categories;
Simple, refined sugars (for example, biscuits and alcohol) versus complex carbohydrates, such as vegetables and grains, which are broken down into natural sugars and released when required
Refined and processed foods (for example breakfast cereal) versus wholefoods (those that exist in nature).
An athlete who relies on refined sugar as fuel, will train their body to react to quick fixes. They will then experience energy spikes followed by crashes, which if you’re training at a high level, will be hugely detrimental to your performance.
Eventually the athlete’s body will demand more and more energy, (being delivered through sugar in this case), resulting in a spike in cortisol and insulin, and thus poor sleep and poor recovery.
*Training with an optimum source of sugar does not mean an athlete should never use refined sugar! There is a place for it, however it shouldn’t be your main source of fuel.
Is Fat A Preferred (Good) Fuel?
The fat-adapted diet is when the body uses fat instead of carbohydrates to provide energy. It is often thought to offer more stable energy, decreased cravings (and crashes) and better sleep which can be appealing for athletic performance.
However, if you’re considering trying this approach then talk to your nutritionist before you do as there can be some side effects that mean it will not be suitable for everyone.
The Best Carbohydrates, for efficient fueling
5 dates or 5 apricots
This is equivalent to 1 energy gel in terms of calories delivered. But these are unrefined and so easier for your body to digest and process and in turn deliver energy where and when it’s needed.
The Best Proteins, for efficient fueling
Protein Balls, homemade with nuts and protein powder
A good quality protein powder supplement is critical for efficient fueling as it is easily and quickly digested to aid fast muscle recovery and can be adjusted to your own dietary requirements (dairy-free, vegan and so on).
The Best Fats, for efficient fueling
Nuts, seeds and coconut oil
Combine these with protein powder and dates to make Power Balls, and you’ll be delivering all 3 macros in one tasty, efficient homemade bite!
Eating the right type of foods will improve your training. You need good fuel for performance and for recovery, which will in turn improve your longevity. It’s a simple rule to remember, but there is no one simple plan that will fit everybody.
As a nutritionist I often see clients training to improve their performance and because they want to drop weight they don’t eat before a training session. But this is a mistake as you will impede your recovery, energy and performance and create stress in your body.
It is imperative to be clear on your goal and support your body. The right food is key.
For me about this, feel free to schedule a free discovery call or sign up for my workshops on the Nutrition 4 Performance!