By C.J. Hammond
At a basic level, nutrition is essential for exercise, as it provides a source of energy to perform an activity. Everything you eat impacts your strength, performance, training, and recovery. It’s not just the type of food that’s important for workout nutrition, but when and how much you eat. All of this can impact your body’s ability to perform better and recover after exercise. You need to eat certain nutrients to maximize your performance and step up your workout.
Regardless of how many hours you stack up in the gym, what you do in the kitchen plays a massive role in the results you see. As much as you train, a bad diet will stand in your way. Often, people tend to overcomplicate things when it comes to diet and exercise. To maximize your performance, keep it simple. Start by stripping back the unhealthy foods like processed and junk foods.
To improve performance, focus on these four vital elements of your diet: carbs, protein, fats, and fruits and vegetables. Eat clean and fuel movement with whole foods that will give you the energy you need to succeed. Let’s break down these four nutritional staples.
It’s simple; your body needs carbs. Carbohydrates fuel your body. They are an important source of energy. A typical diet where around 45% of calories come from carbohydrates is enough for a moderately active person. The more you move, the more carbs you need. If you’re performing a high-intensity exercise for hours at a time, you will need to consume extra energy. Therefore, you will need to eat more carbs, consuming up to 65% of your daily calories from carbohydrates.
Not all carbohydrates are created equal, though. Ideally, look for complex carbohydrates like whole grains. The fiber content is a good indication of the quality of the carbohydrate source. Look for carb foods with three grams or more of fiber. The best carbs are those that reach your bloodstream slowly and give you sustained energy. You don’t want that afternoon slump feeling. High-quality carbohydrate sources to include in your diet include:
No doubt, you will have heard about the importance of protein, but it forms part of the bigger sports nutrition picture. Protein is essential for your muscles. Your body uses protein to repair muscles after exercise and to make new muscle. You need it to rebuild your body.
Protein is one of three macronutrients, the other two being fats and carbohydrates. Protein contains amino acids, which are the fundamental building blocks of human tissue. When you lift weights, it puts a strain on your muscles. This strain creates a micro-tear in the muscle tissue. This is an entirely natural process that stimulates the repair and growth of stronger muscles. But, to carry out these repairs and build bigger muscles, the body needs protein.
Choose lean protein foods with high biological proteins. High biological value proteins contain all the essential amino acids, whereas low biological value proteins contain only some of the essential amino acids.
I stand by the idea that the fewer legs, the better. Things like chicken and fish are a good place to start. Clean sources of protein include:
Fats are essential to health, and active people need a moderate amount of fat in their diet. It provides energy, insulation, and energy storage. Fat deposits also provide a layer of protection for organs, like the kidneys and the heart. Fat is very calorie-dense, so it’s a surefire way to boost your calorie intake, but you won’t be able to eat the same amount of food.
From dietary fat, you get fat-soluble vitamins and essential fatty acids such as omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids. The body can’t produce essential fatty acids, so you have to get them from your food. Essential fatty acids play a role in inflammation and recovery. Omega-3 fatty acids are known for their anti-inflammatory properties and are proven to be beneficial for physical activity and athletic performance.
Not all fats have the same nutritional value. Try to incorporate these healthy fats into meals:
A healthy and balanced diet includes a wide variety of fresh fruits and vegetables. Your diet should contain plenty of fruit and veg to maximize your performance. This is because they contain micronutrients that your body needs to thrive. Everyone can benefit from eating lots of these types of foods. Vegetables are great for boosting the immune system and help to prevent disease in the future.
There’s a rainbow to choose from when picking fruit and veg. I like to use a color code to make sure I’m getting everything my body needs.
As an EXOS Performance Specialist, I often get asked about portion sizes and how often you should eat. Both portion size and meal times are very important when it comes to performance nutrition. In general, here are the portion sizes to follow to maximize physical performance:
Now, let’s talk about how often you should eat. To put it simply, you should eat regularly. Try to refuel every three hours. This works out to about four to six meals per day. You need to fuel your fitness and maximize your body’s ability to perform.
Don’t forget about breakfast, either. Breakfast is vital to start your day off properly. Refuel throughout the day by eating regularly. Start eating early; eat breakfast within about one hour of waking. Fuel your body by eating the right foods and staying hydrated.
Staying hydrated is essential for your performance. Proper hydration lubricates joints for movement and transports nutrients throughout the body. These nutrients give your body the energy it needs to perform at a high level.
Aim to drink about half your body weight in ounces each day. When you train hard, you’re sweating out water and salts. You need to replenish your body’s water supplies. After exercise, try to drink twenty ounces of water for every pound lost. You lose less than two percent of body weight during training. Hydrate with both water and water-rich foods like melon and cucumber.
Higher sodium levels are needed to stay hydrated during training sessions. Sodium helps to replace electrolytes lost during sweating. Inadequate sodium intake after training can hinder your return to a healthy state of hydration.
When you’re training heavy and constantly pushing your body, you need to focus on your nutritional needs. It’s important to maintain a healthy diet that provides you with the energy and nutrients you need to support intense training, as well as optimize your immune system and health. If you’re planning on ramping up your training, you must alter your nutrition to match your body’s growing needs. Fuel your movement with clean foods to perform better. And, consider healthy supplements like vitamins and various types of protein powder.