Meals That Maximize Your Performance
Willpower is not enough. Food is what fuels your training and performance. Athletes make eating meals a conscious process, and they put knowledge of nutrition and planning into it.
I have found that performance outcomes can differ by seconds, which means the right muscle didn’t get the right fuel. Every bite that you eat counts. In working with athletes and their nutrition needs, I’ve found a few simple rules that help you keep food as fuel at the forefront of your mind and help ensure that you get the proteins, carbs, fats, vitamins, minerals and fluids.
Here we go:
- Breakfast of champions. It’s not an empty phrase. Breakfast kick starts your metabolism after sleep. Skip it, or make it only coffee, and you risk working out on fumes, or gorging yourself at dinner and after dinner.
Pack your breakfast with protein, fruit and carbohydrates to get your motor running and your glucose levels up. A breakfast of granola or oatmeal, a banana, a hard-boiled egg and juice samples several nutritional must-haves, gives you the energy you need, and feels satisfying.
Satisfaction means you’ll make nutritional lunch choices as well.
LiveStrong recommends that athletes who train in the morning still have fuel and recommends a light breakfast, an energy drink or a sports bar. If the body gets behind on fuel or hydration, LiveStrong says, muscles don’t perform optimally, your mind loses focus and your stomach is slower to empty. But some athletes need to train their stomachs to accept refueling before an early morning workout, they say.
- Regular meals. Base one or two meals per day on protein-filled green leafy vegetables: lettuce, spinach, kale, collards. Also eat a vegetable that contains carotenoid — the substance that adds vibrant color — at
every meal. They are high in muscle-loving potassium.
Include in your meals high quality sources of protein like beans, nuts, lean meats and more green, leafy vegetables. As you know, protein helps you build muscle mass. Add seaweed to the pot when you’re cooking beans; it helps with intestinal gas. Eat complex carbohydrates, such as whole grain breads. And eat good quality fat, such as fish (salmon and tuna are high in good fats), avocados, nuts, olive oil, butter and cheese.
- Post-training meals. Eat within 30 minutes after training and then eat small meals two hours and four hours after training. Eat high-carb foods such as bagels, pasta, fruits, yogurts, cereal with skim milk, peanut butter, sports drinks, food bars, baked potatoes with chili, a sub sandwich, a fruit smoothie, fruit juice and yogurt. Add in a small amount of protein to help with muscle recovery.
- Fluids. For every pound of body weight you lose during a workout or training session, drink three cups of water. Drink fluids all day and don’t wait until you’re thirsty. Athletes should drink 10-16 ounces of cold fluid about 15-30 minutes before workouts and drink 4-8 ounces of cold fluid during exercise at 15-20 minute intervals.
- Snacks and dessert. LiveStrong advises that you can have 10 percent of your total calories for indulgences. That means, LiveStrong says, that if you eat 2,400 calories a day, you can have 240 calories from, say, a packet of M&M’s, four and a half Oreo cookies, or a little less than 1 cup of vanilla ice cream.
Snacks, however, should be nutritious. They’re part of your daily meal plan and calories for energy. Try these snacks: apple or banana slices with peanut butter, a baked potato with melted cheese, raw vegetables with dip, cottage cheese with fruit, cereal with dried fruit, energy bars, breakfast bars, granola bars, oatmeal, crackers and hummus, smoothies, trail mix, a whole-grain bagel with peanut butter, pudding and graham crackers, sandwiches made with peanut butter, lean meat or tuna, fruit smoothies, and a whole-grain, low-fat muffin with a glass of milk.
A word about pain. I’ve found that pain or tiredness during a workout or after can be traced back to being behind on calories, low on glucose and/or dehydrated. None is good, but dehydration might be the most dangerous. Remember that you’re not only feeding your muscles, you’re feeding all your body’s complex functions. Eat right to maximize you performance and your post-performance recovery.
About the author: Brett Warren is a biochemical research scientist based in Boston, Massachusetts. He puts his expertise to work on a daily basis by developing sports supplements for Force Factor. Brett loves weightlifting and working out at the gym almost as much as he loves his job. In addition to his work with Force Factor, Brett spends lots of time with his family hiking, biking, and enjoying the outdoors.