Performance nutrition: fuel the work required
Before you read on, please note this is a very brief description of a topic that is a little more in depth and that eating real whole foods most of the time and regular exercise is the best way to live a healthier life.
In today’s world there is no shortage of information about how to lose weight and build muscle mass, it is literally everywhere you look.
If you’re a parent, I could only imagine how hard it must be to digest all the information around what to feed your children or the family at dinner time. We’ve all heard that carbohydrates (carbs) could make you put on undesired body fat, or that you need to count your calories so you’re in a calories deficit, or that you need a high protein diet to lose weight.
While there may be some truth to these statements, some more than others, I want you to think about nutrition a little differently. From this point forward I want you to think about it as “fuel for the work required”. Now, for you to do this, you need to understand a few things about food.
The first thing is that carbs, fats and protein all provide energy to the body, and each have a role to play when it comes to building muscle and losing body fat.
The next thing you need to know is that you will not be able to outrun or out train poor nutrition, there just isn’t enough time in the day if your nutrition choices are poor.
The final point, and I can’t stress this enough, is the most important, carbs are a food source that fuel high-intensity exercise. So, think of a spin class, Crossfit WOD, interval run/ride, boxing class, 5km fun run you haven’t trained properly for etc.
From a physiological standpoint, we are talking about a heart rate above 75-80% of your maximum (i.e., 220 – age =max), so if I’m 40 years old, it would be 220 – 40 = 180 max heart rate, 80% of this would be 144 beats per minute. Now, if you don’t have a heart rate monitor it would be an intensity where you wouldn’t be able to hold a conversation due to being out of breath most of the time.
So, if you’re meeting a friend and going for a walk along the coast or a student sitting at a desk all day, do you need that bowl of oats, or three slices of toast for breakfast, definitely not. If I want to “fuel the work” for a day sitting at a desk or going for a walk you want to eat more protein and fats from real food sources (see example food options at bottom of article), as both are much better at satisfying your hunger.
Have you ever noticed after eating refined carbs (cereals, breads, pasta, muesli bars etc) you feel hungry not too long after, even though you thought you ate enough? This is because there are certain hormones involved with letting you know when to stop eating or when you should eat next, and refined carbohydrates generally drive hunger, not suppress it. By the way sugar is a type of carbohydrate, so by reducing sugar intake you are reducing carb intake.
If you have a school carnival or high intense interval training (HIIT) session, then eating refined carbs will help fuel this, for sessions lasting longer than 45 to 60 minutes something like a few pieces of toast/bagel with jam, or cereal an hour or two before would be fine. You want to avoid high fat foods and proteins like meat, bacon, fish, avocado etc before hard exercise as digestion is a lot slower and can cause stomach distress.
If you have a HIIT session after school or work then you can eat lower amounts of carbs through the day until a couple of hours before hand, just before you are going to need them. If you have no hard exercise planned for the day, then aim to eat lower carbs all day.
So, at this stage you may have more questions than I’ve been able to answer, so below I will break it down into some dots points and common questions, followed by a list of foods to eat most of the time, and foods to eat less of. Please also understand due to cultural or personal beliefs some people may not eat meat, or certain types of food, so the lists below may need to be modified based on your beliefs.
· If you intend to train hard enough that you couldn’t hold a conversation, then you need to fuel the session with carbs
· If the session is hard but less than 45 minutes you could get away with eating a very minimal amount of carbs
· If your session is going to be easy – moderate (you should be able to hold a conversation) then you don’t need to eat beforehand
· If you have multiple hard sessions a day (like a school carnival or Crossfit competition) then eating carbs throughout the day is important
· Aim to eat carbs 60-90 minutes before and after hard sessions
· If you have no hard training planned, eat lower amounts of carbs across the day
· Eating less packaged/refined food and more real food is a simple but effective guideline
· Eating real types of carbs across the day is fine on low training days (think plant-based – sweet potato, fruit, berries), but still aim to eat less if activity is low
Foods to eat 60-90 minutes before and after HARD training
White breads, cereals, low fibre fruit, muesli bars, sugary spreads/drinks, lollies, crackers, most grains etc
Foods to avoid on easy or non-training days
Foods to eat more of
Eggs, avocado, spinach, vegetables, nuts, seeds, dairy, high fat cut meats, cook with butters/olive oil, berries, fish, chicken, coconut products.
If you would like a couple of recipes to get you started, please feel free to email email@example.com
Athletic Institute Managing Director