Eat for Performance: Nutrition Tips for Training
We’ve all seen it before: the gym-goer who spends hours slogging away on the treadmill or taking class after class, only for their body to never change. But why? How can someone spend so much time working out and not see the results they want? The answer lies in one cliched phrase: ‘you can’t out-train a bad diet.’
While dietary change may seem daunting, I try and help all my clients see the benefit of understanding how it can help them get results, enhance their performance, and ultimately play a pivotal role in getting them the results they want. Sometimes all it takes are a few key changes to make a big difference.
The two areas where people tend to fall down when it comes to eating habits are timing and balance. Some of us graze all day, while others ignore food for hours. Others of us repeatedly eat take out while some ignore key food groups like fruit and vegetables. Whatever our respective downfalls may be, understanding how they impact our training can be incentive to make positive change.
There is a vast body of information on nutrient timing and endless suggestions, first hand accounts, and success stories in which one particular schedule is championed over another. You may have been told to never eat carbs after 4pm, or to make sure you eat every three hours. There is a logic to each of these suggestions, but that doesn’t necessarily make them right for you. So what are the basics you need to know about timing your meals and snacks?
- Pace yourself. No matter when you find yourself eating, cramming as much food as quickly as possible into your system encourages you to overeat. It takes your body roughly 15 minutes to realize that it’s satiated, so you could conceivably still be eating while you are full. Take time to slow down and identify the time when you feel almost full, but not stuffed.
- Eat over the course of the day. However you choose to space you meals and snacks, try to avoid long spells without food (more than 3-4 hours), or short bursts where you consume a mass of calories at once. This will help prevent insulin spikes (a hormone important to fat loss).
- Pre-workout nutrition. Ensure that you’ve eaten something prior to your workout. You don’t want to feel overly full though. A meal 90-120 minutes before training, assuming it’s not overly heavy, will suffice. It should include a balance of protein, healthy carbs and a bit of healthy fat. If you prefer to have a light snack before working out (around 30 minutes prior), choose something that is a faster digesting carbohydrate source: a banana, some dates, or a small serving of rice, for example.
- Post-workout nutrition. It is important to restore the energy sources you have depleted during your workouts. I would recommend replenishing with a protein source and a carbohydrate source post-workout, while avoiding fat sources for roughly 30 minutes. A protein smoothie is a quick and easy way to get in your protein and carbs (versus a protein shake, which is just water and protein powder).
Now that you’ve got a better idea of when and what to eat, let’s talk about balance. The major factors here are three nutrients, called macronutrients. These are your proteins, fats, and carbs. A stereotypical North American diet is often high in processed carbohydrates (like white bread and sweets) and unhealthy fats (trans-fatty acids, hydrogenated fats). Many fad diets in recent years focus on low carbs or no carbs, and while they do get results, they often require a level of deprivation and self control that simply isn’t maintainable over the long term.
The key is quality versus quantity. All three macronutrients are critical for bodily functions. Fats contain hormones which are critical for mood regulation. Carbs are the body’s primary source of energy. Protein provides the building blocks for our muscles to get strong. The following dietary suggestions will enhance your performance at the gym and help you stay lean:
- Include healthy fats in your diet, still being mindful to not overindulge. While nuts are a healthy fat source, and also contain protein and fibre, 1/2 cup of mixed nuts contains approximately 36 grams of fat!
- Include lean protein sources: chicken, turkey, eggs and egg whites, fish and seafood are all good choices. Be mindful of how they are prepared: anything drenched in butter and/or oil at a restaurant will have a significant amount of added fat.
- Include complex/slow-digesting carbohydrates: brown rice, sweet potatoes, whole grain bread, oatmeal, quinoa (and other ancient grains) are all examples. While fruits classify as simple carbs, they contain important nutrients and can be helpful in curbing sweet cravings. They are best eaten in moderation.
- Include lots of veggies! Eat a colourful rainbow of vegetables, and ensure you get lots of leafy greens! Kale, spinach, arugula, collard greens, and swiss chard are all great options.
- Make sure you’re eating enough fibre. Aim for 25g of fibre a day. If you are currently eating very little fibre, slowly increase your intake each week. Excellent sources include: lentils, split peas, beans, artichokes, peas, broccoli, brussels sprouts, raspberries, avocados, pearled barley, chia seeds, flaxseed meal, and oats.
As you continue your training, you will see the greatest results not only aesthetically, but also performance wise, if you make sure to include lots of wholesome, nutrient rich foods. Aim to minimize your intake of processed foods and you will see added benefits such as improved skin, better sleep, and improved mood. Armed with the suggestions above, you have the knowledge to set yourself well on the way to an even healthier and happier lifestyle. Enjoy the journey and the results!