Are you an athlete or a fitness enthusiast looking to improve your athletic performance? I have been getting more questions about improving athletic performance recently using nutrition. This could be due to the fact that more people get back into fitness following the New Year. Also, more people start to think about events they are training for in the spring and summer, possibly the CrossFit open, a triathlon or a marathon. The best place to address the question I decided is in a blog post.
The best way to replenish your nutrients if you are performing at a high level of performance is with foods that are nutrient dense.
I would recommend eating quality protein with every meal. This may sound obvious but I find that it is frequently overlooked when people are in a hurry. A lot of “on the go” options, such as protein bars, contain more fat and carbohydrates than protein. If you plan ahead protein can be included with every meal. A few good on the go protein sources are hard boiled eggs, quality beef jerky, quality deli meat, and leftovers. Just make sure you are checking ingredients and labels for unnecessary ingredients. Protein powders can be a good option post workout but quality matters. Look for high quality proteins with minimal ingredients. When it comes to recovery and refueling your body you want to use clean, quality ingredients. There are some great quality options available such as, 100% beef isolate, pure egg white, and pure whey proteins.
It is also important to include starchy carbohydrates pre and post exercise. The specific amount required is unique to the individual and will depend on your body’s needs, the timing of your training, and the type of activity. Many people tend to skip carbs, not always intentionally but by accident. Having good whole food starchy carbohydrates on hand may take some planning. It is easy to find processed, pre-packaged and refined carbohydrate sources, but these are not good options for fueling your body to perform. I also recommend choosing starchy carbohydrates over carbohydrates from fruit when it comes to post workout refueling. When you consume carbohydrates from fruit sources it is going to replenish glycogen storage in the liver before the muscles. Post exercise, you want to choose carbohydrate sources that will replenish glycogen in the muscles. Some great sources of starchy carbohydrates are sweet potatoes, white potatoes, butternut squash, and plantains.
When optimizing your nutrition for performance there are several things I recommend avoiding. It is important to avoid foods that are pro-inflammatory. This includes gluten, oxidized trans fats, those used for frying food and rancid oils such as vegetable oils. I also recommend not over supplementing and if you are taking supplements know why you are taking them. If you are not sure what they are for how can you know if they are working? Your supplement needs will change as your training changes. Also, remember not all supplements are created equal. I recommend getting your supplements from reputable vendors and directly form the source.
There are some important nutrients that can provide you and your body excellent support. Here are several I think are worth mentioning. Vitamin A from animal sources is important for building muscle. Vitamin A or retinol can be found in liver, cod live oil, egg yolks, grass-fed butter and eel. Iron, which helps deliver oxygen to the body is important. Iron can be found in red meat, liver, spirulina, and sardines. Vitamin C, which can be depleted during exercise is another important nutrient. It is an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory. Good sources of vitamin C are beets, bell peppers, kiwi, strawberries, brussels sprouts and kale. Zinc, has many key functions in the body. One of them is to help repair tissue and it plays a role in testosterone production, which is important for building lean muscle mass. Zinc can be found in seafood, such as oysters, in lamb and pumpkin seeds. Lipoic acid is a powerful antioxidant that can help the body use glucose and it can help convert food into energy. It is found in red meat and organ meats. Last but no least, magnesium. Magnesium plays a vital role in almost every bodily process including energy production and recovery. I find that most people are deficient in magnesium. Quality sources of magnesium are cooked spinach, avocado, dark chocolate, figs, and almonds.
To recap, eat quality proteins at every meal and use quality starchy carbohydrates for pre-workout fuel and post workout recovery. Avoid pro-inflammatory foods, know the supplements you are taking and why you are taking them. Eat nutrient dense foods to ensure you are getting nutrients that will enhance your performance and assist in recovery. As always if you would like more information regarding nutrition and performance please reach out.
Jamey Floreck, NTP, CPT
Legal Disclaimer: The information presented in this article is intended for educational purposes only, and it has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information isn’t intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any conditions or disease, nor is it medical advice. One should always consult a qualified medical professional before engaging in any dietary and/or lifestyle changes.
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