Eating Right for Sports Performance
Performing well during physical activity comes down to eating right every day. Without a solid foundation of nutritious food, the results of your exercise efforts will be limited. Below are some guidelines to help fuel your body right!
- Focus on real foods that are loaded with vitamins and minerals as opposed to highly processed foods (choose foods that have a shorter shelf life-like produce, dairy, meats)
- Minimize preservatives, trans fats & processed foods (Ex: candy bars, chips, “fast food”)
- Focus on nutrient dense foods that are high in antioxidants (think colorful fruits & vegetables)
Eat small meals every 3 hours
Eat a meal within 1 hour of waking & every 3 hours thereafter to regulate your blood sugar levels. Doing this will:
- Increase the rate at which you burn fat
- Increase your energy levels
- Improve your mood & mental focus
- Improve your blood markers (cholesterol, triglycerides, blood glucose)
Include lean proteins at every meal
Aim for 20-30g (females) to 30-40g (males) per meal, 4-5 times per day. Adequate dietary protein is needed to repair tissues & provides structure to our body (bone, muscle, skin, hair, nails, etc.)
Stick to “Good Carbs” AKA Low Glycemic Carbohydrates
Carbohydrates are needed in continuous supply to provide our brain & central nervous system with energy.
The Glycemic Index is a scale of 1-100 that measures the effect a carbohydrate has on our blood sugar.
- Food that are above 70 are fast digesting which will spike your blood sugars causing a “high” followed by a “crash” & cravings for more carbohydrates (Ex: white bread). Note: these foods are appropriate during endurance activity as your body needs the sugar (sports drinks for example more on this below)
- Foods that are below 55 are slow digesting & will keep your energy levels consistent & feeling more satiated (Ex: low sugar fruits, vegetables, brown or parboiled rice)
- Portion size is ½ cup, ¾ cup or 1 cup according to meal size
Balance your diet with healthy fats
Fats play an important role in stabilizing our blood sugar which is critical for overall health. They also make up our cell membranes, from our brains and central nervous systems, and are needed for hormone production. The types and amounts of fat we eat have a direct impact on our overall health. Aim for about 30% of your daily calories to come from healthy fats, but you will want to minimize these in the times around your workout as they are slow the absorption of nutrients. Sources of healthy fats include:
- Oils such as macadamia nut oil, olive oil, coconut oil, fish oil
- Foods such as avocados, nuts, almond butter, humus & REAL butter
- AVOID vegetable oils, hydrogenated oils and trans fats (found in proceed foods, baked goods and margarine)
Eat a lower carb meal at night, unless it’s after your workout
Remember carbohydrates provide our body with energy. Typically we do not need to “load up” before bed time. The exception would be if you have just finished a workout, in this situation a serving of carbohydrates with your meal of ½ cup (females), ¾ cup (males) would be appropriate to help repair your muscles. Other than these times it’s best to stick to protein, vegetables, and healthy fats in the evening.
Avoid eating right before bedtime (give yourself 2-3 hours to digest your meal)
Going to bed on a full stomach will promote fat storage, but a semi-fasted state will allow us to get a better night’s rest. Quality sleep = quicker recovery = better performance.
Sleep a minimum of 7 hours each night
Adequate sleep is necessary for our body to produce the hormones we need to regulate our metabolism & appetite. Sleep is critical to allow your body to recover & repair, especially when training volume is high. See my blog post on 8 Ways to Improve Your Sleep for more information.
Staying hydrated in essential to sports performance. Staying hydrated will also reduce cravings and improve energy levels.
Aim to drink at least 80oz or ½ of your body weight in oz per day (ex: 200lb male will drink 100oz of water). Drink another 8oz of every 20 minutes you exercise.
Before / During / After Exercise
When in the “workout window” (1-2 hours before/during/after workout) it is important to focus your meals on Carbohydrate & Protein while minimizing dietary fats (because of potential digestive stress).
Up to 250-500mg of caffeine prior to the event can also help to reduce perceived fatigue and improve performance. **coffee is NOT considered to be a good source of caffeine for this purpose as it can have unwanted effects on our digestive system. Sports supplements would be the best source**
Liquid nutrition is typically preferred to food sources because it can be digested (and thus used by to fuel your muscles) quicker.
Most important: When preparing for an endurance race such as a marathon, make sure you test any dietary strategies before race day. Dietary strategies and supplements are tolerated differently among athletes. Experiment on your shorter runs and find what works best for you.
Let’s create a better, healthier you!
Yeah, I know… the fitness world can be a confusing place, even when it comes to something as simple as understanding what to eat.
Let me help you make sense of it all with my FREE video series Healthy Eating 101. In it you’ll learn the what to eat, how much to eat, and strategies that make all of this simple & easy. As a special bonus you’ll also get my ebook 8 Daily Habits to a Healthier You so you can get started right away. Click here to get started!
If you this information to be helpful please SHARE this post to help spread the message of healthy living. Thank you for reading!