Food is your fuel and directly affects your body’s energy levels and athletic performances. Adequately fueling your body for a workout and replenishing after exercise will build and strengthen muscle groups and systems in your body, as well as ward off injuries. This is a basic outline on healthy, athletic performance boosting foods, with links to resources in case you would like to research more what foods are right for you.
Grass fed dairy: butter, gee, raw milk
Why: Fats are needed to slow the absorption of food for proper energy regulation, as well as providing a source of consistent, slow burning energy, needed for endurance athletes. The heart prefers to run off of fat, rather than other macronutrients. Grass fed dairy in particular is rich in vitamins A & K2 which may aid in cardiovascular health.
Organ meats: (preferably grass fed) liver, kidneys, heart, etc
Why: Organ meats are the most concentrated source of many nutrients, including very large doses of the B Vitamins and iron, which are both critical for energy production.
Sea vegetables: Dulse, kelp, seaweed, herbs and spices
Why: Americans in general get very little Omega 3 fatty acids, although they are critical for anti-inflammatory. Athletes need Omega-3’s to keep their muscles from inflammation after rigorous exercise. Sea vegetables also contain extremely high amounts of various minerals, many of which your body cannot make itself, so you need to get these minerals from food sources. Minerals have a variety of different roles, a critical one for the athlete being the contracting and relaxing of muscles and regulating of tissue growth.
Bone Broth (homemade)
Why: Athletes need more protein than non-active people. Amino acids are needed to form proteins in your body. They are critical for muscle development, recovery, and maintenance after exercise. Bone broth is a great source of amino acids, specifically arginine, which specifically helps with endurance capabilities.
Fermented Foods: sauerkraut, high quality yogurt, kefir, kombucha
Why: Fermented foods supply the good bacteria to the gut, aiding in keeping a healthy digestive system. Many illnesses have been linked to unhealthy gut. A healthy gut also digests foods properly, and without proper digestion you will not be getting the nutrients from the healthy foods you are eating.
Breakfast: choose a good portion of protein (at least 20 grams) and fat (at least 30 grams), and include a smaller amount (about 30-60 grams) of carbohydrate. For breakfast it is particularly important to focus on getting plentiful protein and fat, as this will start your day with healthy blood sugar levels and keep your energy consistent from the beginning of the day. Breakfast is a good time to include a portion of probiotics. I also recommend drinking either bone broth or raw milk in the morning instead of coffee.
Lunch: Similar to breakfast, but I find that lunch is a great time to include the important leafy green vegetables, sea vegetables, and organ meats along with plentiful healthy fats. The organ meats in particular will help prepare your body for the upcoming workout.
About 30 minutes before a workout: When you eat plentiful amounts of healthy fats for breakfast and lunch and do not consume excess carbs, your body gets better at burning fat for fuel, and overtime prefers using fat for energy instead of carbohydrates. When this happens, you are not hungry within a couple hours of eating lunch and you feel energetic through an afternoon workout. In this case, you don’t have to rely on “carbo loading” right before a workout. But if you are consuming too many carbohydrates per day (you shouldn’t need more than 300 grams per day of intense exercise), your body will rely on getting a pre-workout snack for energy during the workout. If you think you need help with energy before a workout (if you’re hungry, feel lightheaded or like you just don’t have enough energy), have some starchy carbs along with a little fat and protein, as starchy carbs provide a good source of direct energy for your muscles and fat and protein slow down their digestion. If you didn’t eat a proper lunch and really need very quick energy right before or during a workout, simple carbs such as fruit will help do this. It’s best not to rely on simple carbs for energy very often, as you would need to be consistently refueling during the workout to keep your energy up. Slowly transitioning to consuming more healthy fats instead of overdoing it on the carbs is the best way to adapt your body to using fat as fuel instead of carbohydrates. It’s best to do this slowly and carefully to make sure your body is getting adequate energy. Start by getting about 40% of your daily calories from carbohydrates, 30% from healthy fats, and 30% from protein. Monitor how you feel and you can make adjustments from there.
It is also very important to be getting adequate hydration and electrolytes back into your body during and after a workout. At a minimum, you should be drinking at least half your body weight in water per day. (See additional handout on sports hydration for details.)
Directly after a workout: I recommend waiting until both your body and mind has calmed down from your workout before you eat a post workout snack. If you eat directly after a workout when you are still cooling down or extra energized, your body will not be able to digest what you just ate properly, since its primary focus is on relaxing your body. However, it is important to replenish your body after a long, hard work out, so the sooner you can transition from your state of movement to relaxing, it is time to eat a post workout snack or meal. I don’t usually recommend protein powders, but sometimes they can be appropriate. It would be preferable to get the needed nutrients from food, as many protein powders contain harmful fillers and synthetic ingredients. A serving of protein with some complex carbohydrate (such as a hardboiled egg with sliced sweet potato) is a great post work out snack. But if you really need extra fuel and want to add muscle mass, protein powder shakes can be helpful. If this is the case, make sure to have either purely egg white or non-denatured whey protein from a grass-fed source.
Dinner: It is critical to have a full meal after a workout to replenish your worn out muscles. Focus on getting the same suggested foods as before, and don’t skimp on the calories from healthy sources!
Fat: Raw soaked nuts and seeds, raw cold-pressed oils from nuts and seeds, saturated fats from healthy sources such as lamb, pork, eggs, avocado, natural coconut products. *guide to soaking and sprouting: http://www.squidoo.com/soaking-and-sprouting-chart-for-nuts-seeds-and-grains
Protein: Meat (preferably grass fed & local) from beef, bison, chicken, eel, lamb, liver, fish such as salmon, sardines & scallops, eggs, and whole, raw, or cultured dairy products. Don’t worry about eating too much protein if you are getting it from a proper source. Eat enough to satisfy your appetite.
Carbohydrates: Starchy carbs are good to include in your meal or as a snack both before and after a workout. Especially plentiful in the fall, focus on root vegetables such as sweet potato, yams, taro, parsnips, squash, carrots, beets, and pumpkin. Many fruits and nuts are also higher in carbohydrates. Simple carbs consist of fruit and natural sugars, such as dates, and treats made with agave, coconut sugar, and raw honey. Focus on getting about 50-75 grams of carbohydrates before your workout to make sure you are adequately fueled, and after your workout to replenish your energy stores. If you feel you need more energy during your workout, increase the amount, and vice versa. On training days, you should aim for at least 150 grams of the recommended carbs per day.
1 cup of:
Approximate grams of carbs
mashed sweet potato
sliced Taro root
Resources and citations:
‘Practical Paleo’ and http://balancedbites.com/, by Diane Sanfilippo
http://autoimmune-paleo.com/, by Mickey Trescott
http://www.marksdailyapple.com/ , Mark Sisson
http://chriskresser.com/, Chris Kresser