Our bodies are machines – and, like our cars, they need the right fuel to function properly.
You can’t expect a coffee and a muffin to give you the energy you need to perform at your best. If you want to transform your fitness, smash your goals, and recover quickly from training, you need to follow a well-structured performance eating plan that’s packed full of solid nutritional choices.
We’ve got so much to say on the topic. For more in-depth advice, we’d recommend asking us to put together a bespoke 7-day performance eating meal strategy for you, based on your age, sex, activity level and preferred sport.
But if you’re just after some quick suggestions, read on for 5 of our very best tips for performance eating.
1. Learn to view carbs as your friend, not your enemy
There is so much talk in the fitness world these days about carbs cycling, carb depletion, and carbs being the enemy of a good physique. But this really isn’t the case when eating for performance.
Carbohydrate-rich foods offer the best fuel for energy and are a perfect choice for athletes.
Carbs convert into blood glucose and provide energy if needed – otherwise, they are stored as glycogen in the liver and muscle.
But when building your nutrition plan, it’s important to understand the difference between slow-burning and fast-acting carbs.
2. Slow-burning carbs (low to medium GI)
These are carbs that are absorbed gradually into the body and will keep energy levels topped up for longer, making them ideal for endurance and training. They include wholegrain breads; wholefood cereals, like oats; pasta, pulses, Basmati rice; fruit and veg; and nuts and seeds.
3. Fast-acting carbs (high GI)
These are rapidly absorbed by the body and provide an instant energy rush. They are not recommended for keeping sustained energy levels but can quickly replenish energy if needed. Examples include honey, dates, raisons, glucose, energy drinks, and sugar.
When eating for performance, you should consume carbs with every meal – particularly your lunch, as this is the meal that’s going to see you through the rest of the day. The trick is to choose ‘good’ sources of carbs, from foods like oats, pasta, grains, couscous, polenta, and lentils. You can snack on fast absorbing-carbs like bananas, flapjacks, and popcorn.
4. Power up with protein
Proteins are the building blocks of your muscles. Protein repairs damaged muscle tissue and grows new muscle fibres – which essentially means that a great performance is impossible without a healthy functional muscle structure. With this in mind, choosing the right proteins is possibly the most important part of any balanced diet.
You can get protein from all kinds of foods, but our top 5 sources are:
- Chicken – it’s high in lean protein
- Whole eggs – they help raise good cholesterol in the body
- Lean steak – which is high in iron
- Fish – which is high in heart-healthy omega 3s
- Nuts – which are high in good fats
5. Use fats for fuel
Like carbohydrates, fats get a bad rep in the media.
Yes, there are some fats we should avoid, as the negatives out weigh the benefits. Saturated fats and trans fats are the main culprits; the kinds that are usually found in fast food and cheap cooking oils.
Your fats should come from healthy sources that are high in omega 3, 6 and 9, as they will be heart healthy and provide a great source of energy.
You can get hold of the good stuff from fish, nuts, olive oil, avocado and seeds.
6. Don’t just pop pills – eat your vitamins and minerals
We all know vitamins and minerals are key to proper training performance and fast recovery, but we have become too reliant on convenience. Instead of taking vitamins in pill form, make sure you eat a wide variety of fruit and veg to give your body the nutrients it needs. By all means, supplement your diet with a multi vitamin and mineral tablet, but this should be just that: a supplement, not a replacement.
To make sure you’re topping up your fruit and veg intake as much as possible:
- Make fruit an integral part of your breakfast
- Snack on raw carrots, celery, plums or berries, dried apricots or even a yellow pepper, and dip veg snacks into hummus for added taste
- Include salad ingredients with every meal. Chop up a side salad or make sauces and pesto by blending fresh ingredients. Try fresh tomato and basil, mango and mint or slice cucumber and add yoghurt if you want to
- Vegetable soups can be eaten cold or warm. Try butternut squash, spinach, pea, carrot, or a mixture of everything!
7. Include dairy
Now this one will be unpopular with many, as we have recently villainised diary and blamed it for a lot of our dietary problems, including obesity.
However, calcium plays a huge role in building your strength. You have over 1kg of calcium in your body, 99% of which is in the bones – so your bones need to be strong to deal with the stresses put on them. This means it’s vital to get enough calcium from your diet.
Now if you don’t want to consume lots of calorie dense milks and cheeses, there are lighter options that will help you add protein and calcium to your diet. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Use lighter cheeses like ricotta or cottage, add them to pasta or salads
- Make yoghurt the base of your dressings and sauces
- Use cow, soya, or rice milk to mix into smoothies
- If using cream and butter, make sure they are from free ranging, grain fed sources
For tailored help and support in this area, contact Physically Fit today!