How to Eat for Fitness Performance
High-carb, low-carb, clean eating, Paleo, vegan – when did eating become so complicated?
No matter your particular diet, as a person who works out, your goal is to fuel your body to optimize your training and recovery.
Food is your fuel. While many people struggle with their relationship with food, calories or weight loss, the bottom line is that you can’t workout well if you don’t fuel properly.
Generally speaking, fueling to workout involves following some basic guidelines without getting overly concerned about every single thing that you put in your mouth. You don’t have to be an obsessive calorie counter or follow a rigid fueling plan to succeed!
1. Listen to Your Body
Learning to feed your body as an athlete means learning to eat when you’re hungry and knowing how to push away when you’re full. It’s a simple concept that’s difficult in practice because many of us often ignore our bodies’ signals. Try to tune in more closely and trust your instincts. It will take some time, but you want to practice fueling yourself more instinctively.
2. Think About Macronutrients First
As an athlete, every meal should include the three macronutrients: protein, healthy fat and a high-quality carbohydrate. Composing a meal this way will help increase satiety. Fat is certainly not the enemy it was once considered to be, and adding healthy fats like nuts or avocado to your meals will help you feel fuller longer. Make sure to keep your healthy fats in check. A 1/4 of an avocado, 2 Tbsp peanut butter or 12 whole nuts is one full portion. OPtimally you should use these portions only twice a day or make smaller portions and spread them throughout all your meals.
3. Eat Real Food
Even Paleo and vegan eaters agree that when it comes to eating healthfully, you are always better off sticking to real food. This means food that is minimally processed and as close to its original, whole form as possible. Think: vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts and seeds, and fish and lean meat. At the grocery store, these items are typically found in the periphery of the market, rather than in the middle aisles.
4. Eat Like Elite Athletes
The dietary habits and training methods of the world’s best athletes help us define what works. Elite athletes hold most of the records, they win most races, they get the gold medals and they eat carbohydrates.
Carbohydrates are a necessity for athletes to replenish glycogen stores and fuel faster workouts, so don’t skimp on carbohydrates just because it was a fad diet in the 90’s! Although there are certainly exceptions, if you look at top-tier athletes, they are regularly consuming carbohydrates. Not all carbs are created equal, of course, so that doesn’t mean it’s OK to go for that sugar-laden donut. Think sweet potatoes, quinoa, beans, lentils, whole grain rice, white potatoes, peas, whole grain pasta and oatmeal.
5. Don’t Be a Perfectionist
Strive to eat as well as you can 80–90% of the time, but allow yourself to find pleasure in your food. A few cookies or a slice of cake are not going to derail your goals if you allow yourself to enjoy it while also balancing them with quality, nutritionally dense food.
As a person who works out on the regular, you have more specific nutritional requirements than the general population. Follow these guidelines, and you’ll be well on your way to navigating the complicated world of athlete nutrition and feeling your best before, during and after your sweat session.