Real Food Nutrition For Athletes
One of the most common questions we get from athletes- both kids and adults alike is, “How do I fuel myself during my workouts?”.
We know that eating real foods, is the key to success. Real food gives us energy, helps stabilize our metabolism and blood sugar, helps us recover, and gives our body the right amount of nutrients we need to support our activities.
After switching to a real food nutrition approach in my training, I have PR’d my 5k time, my half marathon time, my Sprint, Olympic, and Half Ironman distance triathlon times, and have felt better during my training, and during recovery. I also sleep better, and have an easier time waking up in the mornings.
Obviously there are many other factors that contribute to being successful, but it’s a fact that real food can help us in many ways when it comes to training, and competing. It may take a few weeks for your body to adjust, and you may have to try different combinations to get your ideal mix of nutrition, but once you find it, I bet you’ll see success in both your training, competing, and overall recovery.
First off, let’s look at some common items that athletes typically fuel with either during speed/power or endurance training sessions:
- Sports Gels
- Energy Bars/drinks
- Sports Drinks or Soda/Pop
- Other Pre-packaged/processed items
Why do athletes eat the above items? For starters, marketers have done a fantastic job at selling these products as being XYZ for performance, so people think that they need this stuff. Second, athletes have been told that they need to fuel their bodies every 15 minutes to keep their energy up, and to sustain longer training sessions.
Unfortunately, with that train of thought, people often end-up over consuming food which can result in weight-gain, sluggishness, and also sloshy bellies (seriously the worse). Not to mention, if they’re eating the above items, they’re ingesting all sorts of processed ingredients, dyes, and more unhealthy ingredients.
What we teach at Force is to eat real foods that sustain you, and make you healthier everyday, while also enhancing your training goals. There is a place for workout shakes, and on-the-go items, but we want to focus on eating real food at each meal, first and foremost.
Instead of training with the traditional items listed above, test some real food items. Also, take into account how long you’ll be working out. If your training session is less than 60 minutes, you are probably ok with just having some water with some electrolytes (if it’s warm).
If you’re training longer than 60 minutes, tailor your intake of food, and drink accordingly to length of workout (>60 min or <60 min), type of workout (high intensity or strength) temperature (summer, winter), etc.
Here are some suggestions for nutrition if you’re heading out for a longer endurance workout (think a long run or bike ride) or, if you have a higher intensity workout lasting longer than 60 minutes in time:
Try eating a small meal about 1 hour before your training session. If you train in the morning, try working out in a fasted state (on an empty stomach) or with a small meal beforehand. You will quickly be able to determine what works best for you by trying a few different things.
Pair protein with carbs, and minimize the fat- here are some good options:
- Beef jerky with fruit and nuts
- A couple of hard-boiled eggs with a handful of dried fruit or nuts
- Tuna with some plantain chips or a sweet potato
- White rice cakes with raw honey and almond butter
- Applesauce or an apple with some chicken
- A Larabar or homemade fruit and nut bars with beef jerky
- RxBar, or Epic Bar
- Generation UCAN drink (protein)
- Stronger Faster Healthier (SFH) protein shake
In most cases, you will not need anything to eat during your workout. For those athletes who are endurance focused, and who are training for longer than 60 minutes, here are some good options for in-session nutrition:
– A few medjool dates filled with almond butter, peanut butter, cashew butter or sunflower seed butter
– Mini Larabars or homemade fruit and nut bars
– Squeezable baby food like sweet potato, apple, beets, carrot or make your own with sweet potato, honey, cinnamon, and almond milk
– Natural or homemade fruit chews and gummies- you can find some at the store that are only made with fruit juice, and citric acid
– Dried figs, raisins or dates
– Ignite Naturals Reload Energy Gels (fruit and fig paste base)
– Generation UCAN drink (protein + electrolytes)
– Water with Elete Electrolyte add-in
– Water with Elete electrolyte add-in mixed with some fruit juice- a favorite is tart cherry juice concentrate
– Coconut water taken with salt tablets or sea salt added (I use Elete Electrolyte salt tablets)
– UCAN drink (protein + electrolyte)
After your workout, try to eat a meal within an hour or two afterwards. Focus on real foods as you would for any other meal. Here are some ideas:
- Potatoes with protein, and veggies
- Oatmeal with fruit and eggs
- Salad with protein and fruit
Give real food a try, and see how it affects your training. Each athlete is different, and what they need for training, and recovery is going to be vastly different too. Our advice? Try a few things until you figure out the best solution for you.