You’ve got your workout plan in place and you are motivated to work hard. Don’t sabotage your progress by overlooking these three simple nutrition rules! If you want to maximize your work potential and speed your exercise recovery, you need to lay the groundwork by eating the right foods at the right time.We aren’t talking protein shakes here. These nutrition rules might surprise you!
Rule 1: Think Carbs, not Protein!
Most people think of protein as the most important macronutrient for exercise, but carbohydrates are arguably more important. While it is true that protein is essential for enzyme production and bodily repair, our needs are much lower than most people think.
Put the refined protein powders away. All whole foods contain a percentage of protein. As long as you are meeting your energy demands with a variety of whole foods, you will get enough.
Carbohydrates, rather protein or fat, are the most important fuel for exercise. Your body breaks carbohydrates down into glucose, which is stored in the muscles as glycogen. When you run out of glycogen, it’s like a car running out of gas. This is known as “hitting the wall”.
Many people think that high carbohydrate diets are only for endurance athletes. Not so! The more intense the physical exertion, the more carbohydrates are needed to fuel the activity. The weight lifters and the sprinters need to carb up too. Olympic Sprinter Yohan Blake is known to eat 16 bananas a day!
Having enough stored glycogen means that you will be able to exercise more intensely and for a longer duration. In other words, carbohydrates help you build fitness, by improving exercise duration and quality. Those who mistakenly cut down on carbs thinking it will help them lose weight will quickly find their workouts and fitness suffering.
Contrary to popular belief, carbs do not contribute to weight gain any more than protein or fat. Perhaps even less so. There are a few reasons for this, not least of which is that high carb whole foods tend to be high in fibre, as well as low in overall calories. Thus, they fill you up without over consuming calories.
To reach your peak fitness, you need to make sure that you are consuming enough carbohydrates daily. We aren’t talking about donuts and Twizzlers. The best sources are starchy vegetables, whole grains, and fruits. For example, Oatmeal, brown rice, yams, potatoes, beans, peas, lentils, bananas, and dates are all great choices.
If your workout intensity and endurance is suffering, you will notice a big difference if you make the effort to eat more carbohydrate-rich foods. Basing your meals on carbohydrate staples and you will enjoy better workouts, lower injury risk, and faster recovery.
Rule 2: Eat the Right Things at the Right Time
Before exercise, you need to remember one rule: Today’s glycogen is tomorrow’s energy. In other words, if you have a big workout coming up tomorrow, you need to make sure that your glycogen stores are replete today. If you are someone who exercises frequently, you need to make sure you top up with carbohydrates every single meal.
I aim to take in about 75-80% of my daily calories as carbohydrate so that I am ready to train every day. This means if I eat 3000 calories daily, 2,250 of those calories will come from carbohydrate. Stick to this rule regardless if you are training or not that day.
This is easy on a whole food diet, as plant foods on average derive 75-80% of their calories from carbs. Simply eating enough while avoiding refined foods, oils and not overdoing it on nuts and avocados will do it!
There are a lot of fancy products out there for mid-exercise fuelling, but in most cases, you body will only be able to utilize simple sugars during exercise. Because blood is being diverted away from the stomach to working muscles, keep your fuel sources to simple sugars as opposed to starches.
For exercise lasting over an hour, look to take in about 1 gram of carbohydrate per kilogram of bodyweight per hour. Raisins, dates, bananas, energy gels and sports drinks are your best bet. Stay away from high fibre, high fat, and high protein foods. They simply will not digest. At best they will be useless to you, at worst they will upset your stomach, and divert valuable blood away from working muscles.
After exercise, you want to take in a carbohydrate rich meal within the hour to restock glycogen for tomorrow. Any good, whole-food, plant based meal will do, but my favourite is fruit. Fruit is quickly broken down and will help to rehydrate the body with its high water content. This is especially great if you tend to experience stomach discomfort after a hard effort.
Rule 3: Include Lots of Berries and Greens
So far, I’ve only focussed on fuelling. While whole food carbohydrate sources are vitamin and mineral rich, nothing beats fruits and vegetables for their vitamins and antioxidants. While such foods are particularly low calorie, and will not contribute much in terms of energy for exercise, the nutrition they provide is extremely vital to optimal performance.
Including a wide variety of fruits and non-starchy vegetables in your daily diet is always a good idea. However, berries such as blueberries, raspberries and blackberries are the healthiest fruits, and leafy greens such as kale, arugula, swiss chard, and collards are the healthiest vegetables with the greatest antioxidant power.
Being sure to include lots of berries and greens, especially post workout, will reduce inflammation, expedite recovery and combat muscle soreness so that you can train hard again tomorrow.
Post-Workout Refuel and Recover Smoothie
I designed this smoothie to provide the ultimate combination of quick fueling and antioxidant repair for after intense exercise. You can always increase the number of calories in this smoothie by tossing in a few Medjool dates or a few more ripe bananas.
3 Ripe Bananas (Very Spotty!)
1 Cup Wild Frozen Blueberries
¼ Cup Frozen Cranberries
1 Cup Baby Spinach
1 tbsp ground Flax Seed
1 tbsp Amla Powder (Optional. Found in Indian markets. Highest known source of antioxidants!)
2 Cups Filtered Water
Blend it up, knock it back!