What you fuel your body with directly correlates to overall health, and athletic performance as well. Whether you are heading to the gym for a quick workout, or are preparing for a half marathon, what you eat plays a role. Your body needs fuel, and not just any fuel, quality food and in the right combinations is what makes the difference. A healthy balance of complex carbohydrates, healthy fats, quality protein, vitamins, and minerals will give your body what it needs to perform at its peak, both mentally and physically. Let’s have a look at how to fuel your body properly:
Carb loading is a popular phenomenon in the fitness world, but is it healthy? It all comes down to what types of carbohydrates you are loading your body with. Complex carbohydrates found in things like brown rice, quinoa, and starchy vegetables are going to give your body a much slower release of energy keeping your body going longer than the refined carbs found in things like pasta, and white bread.
Carbs are an essential part of athletic performance, they supply the body with glucose for energy, and is stored as glycogen when in excess. During long periods of strenuous activity, the body relies on those glycogen stores to refuel the body and keep blood sugar and energy levels stable. Focus on whole grains, starchy veggies, fruits, brown rice, and unsweetened yogurts to give the body the energy boost it needs to thrive.
A diet low in dietary fat can be a recipe for athletic disaster! Once glycogen stores run out, your body relies on fats to give you that energy boost it needs. This is especially important during long periods of strenuous activity. You will want to focus on high-quality sources of fats and ditch the damaged fats from fried and packaged foods. High-quality fats will also help the body absorb fat-soluble vitamins which are not only essential for overall health, but also for keeping your body in tip-top athletic condition. Enjoy things like avocados, coconut oil, wild caught salmon, nuts, seeds, and olive oil.
Protein, the most commonly talked about macronutrient when it comes to muscle recovery. Protein is needed for nearly every process in the body, and without enough your body is going to suffer. You need adequate amounts of protein to refuel those tired muscles, and very small amounts of protein may also be used as energy when all else fails. Don’t deplete your body of protein; it needs it! Protein can be found in lean meats, eggs, Greek yogurt, and even plant-based foods such as legumes, and plant-based protein powders.
Vitamins and Minerals
Let’s not forget about vitamins and minerals. While they may not serve as a source of energy, they are needed to keep your body in excellent shape and support your athletic body. Eating a well-balanced diet will ensure that you are fueling your bones with proper amounts of calcium, vitamin D, and magnesium to prevent muscle cramping. Vitamins and minerals are also required to help keep electrolyte levels balanced. While multivitamins may be safe in certain circumstances, it’s best to get your vitamin and minerals from food sources as they are better absorbed. Not to mention the potential for toxicity when over-supplementing. Focus on well-balanced meals and your body will thank you for it.
Don’t Forget to Hydrate!
Hydration, hydration, hydration! This is key, and without enough water, dehydration will set in. Dehydration is directly related to poor athletic and mental performance. Don’t deprive your body of water, hydrate to prevent muscle cramping, dizziness, headaches, and fatigue. Not only is dehydration dangerous, but it will keep you from performing at your best.
Tips for Fueling Your Body Right
So how do you properly fuel your body? It’s all about what you eat and when you eat. Here are three tips for fueling your body right.
1. Eat a well-balanced diet
Focus on getting a variety of foods in your diet. Different foods and different macronutrient groups offer different nutrients, so it’s important to focus on variety. Focus on getting a balance of complex carbs, fats, and protein into your diet on a day to day basis.
2. Eat Regularly
It’s important to eat regularly throughout the day, and not to skip meals. An athletic body is going to need more fuel than someone who lives a sedentary lifestyle. Don’t hurt your athletic performance by skipping meals. Keep your blood sugar levels stable throughout the day with balanced-meals, and healthy snacks.
3. Eat Enough
Just like skipping meals can harm your athletic performance, not eating enough can hurt you as well. Calories are what fuel your body during exercise, and you need to replace those calories after exercise as well. Eating enough helps to sustain your athletic demand, and refuel and help your body recover.
What to Eat for Success
You know that what you eat matters, but in what combination? What should you be eating before and after exercise to properly fuel your body? Here are three ways to give your body the optimal fuel it needs to succeed.
Before training, you will want to enjoy slow releasing carbs to help keep your energy levels up. Try starchy vegetables, fruits, complex carbs such as brown rice, quinoa, grains, and of course water to keep your body adequately nourished. You can also enjoy raw honey as a way to provide your body with a quick energy boost directly before exercise for increased energy, and concentration. Try making your own energy gel with raw honey as opposed to using the artificial store bought products.
After training, your body needs a quick source of energy to recover. You will need to replace those glycogen stores within the first few hours after exercise. Get some carbohydrates and protein into your body soon after exercise by enjoying some fresh fruit, and Greek yogurt, a smoothie with some whey or plant based protein powder, or an almond butter sandwich. You should then enjoy a larger meal a few hours later rich in complex carbohydrates and protein to replace muscle glycogen stores even further to prepare the body for the next big event.
What you fuel your body with matters. It not only matters for keeping your body happy, and healthy, but it makes an impact on how well you perform at your next athletic event. Whether you are a seasoned athlete or are just stepping into the fitness world, nutrition plays a huge role. Fuel your body right, and your body will reward you for it.