March is National Nutrition Month and the theme is, Put Your Best Fork Forward. As an athlete, you take the time to map out your exercise schedule and plan for your upcoming races, but are you really thinking about the food you eat throughout? Are you giving your body the best possible fuel to take your athletic performance to the next level? Let's find out.
Do you ever experience:
- Hunger during workouts
- Frustrated and not making forward progress
- Decreased quality of workouts
- Feeling sluggish
If you said 'yes' to any of the above, you may not be providing your body with enough or with the right types of fuel to improve performance. This goes for all types of food we eat, even the non-workout days!
Below are some general guidelines to help you put your best fork forward with important nutrients. If you've got specific questions, or want to talk to me or the Sword team about specific topics, reach out to us on Facebook, Instagram, or directly by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org!
Carbohydrates are the body’s preferred source of fuel and very importan for anaerobic activities. Carbs are the primary energy source for the nervous system, muscular system, brain. Carbohydrates aren't just all converted to glucose though, they also contain valuable fiber, vitamins, and minerals that are equally important for the body to function normally, so make sure you're not shying away from them in your diet! Unprocessed carbohydrates like those found in raw grains, fruits, and vegetables still contain their natural "instructions" utilizing a fiber matrix that the human body has adapted to read over generations. With the age of modern food processing, some of those "instructions" have been lost by removing the fiber, and often times our body isn't exactly sure what to do with these highly processed sugars, resulting in weight gain, fluid retention, hormonal imbalance, and even disease. We highly recommend you keep as much of your carbohydrate intake from a raw or unprocessed food source, that way those valuable fiber "instructions" are still intact.
Carbs aren't just for ready-made fuel, and play an important role in recovery by helping to replenish glycogen stores, move oxygen, transport lactic acid buildup, and facilitate in protein rebuilding, so you can own your next workout. Now as an athlete, you must be cautious of your intake and balance the simple and complex carbohydrates to not only replenish the glycogen quickly in your body, but also maintain a steady supply to refuel liver stores and maintain a sound hormonal release profile supporting recovery.Daily Carbohydrate Recommendations for an Endurance Athlete:
7-12 g/kg if engaging in moderate to high-intensity workouts
5-7g/kg if engaging in low-intensity workouts
Examples of Quality Carbohydrates: Whole Wheat Grains, Oatmeal, Bulgur, Brown Rice, Fruits, Vegetables, Legumes, Lentils, Potatoes, Dairy Products (i.e. milk, yogurt)
Limit this type of Simple Carbohydrate: white bread/rice, refined grains, sugary beverages, added sugars found in sweets and baked goods, and processed fruits (i.e. canned fruit in heavy syrup & fruit juice).
Nutritional Facts Panel TIP! Other Names for Sugar: table sugar, brown sugar, molasses, honey, beet sugar, cane sugar, confectioner's sugar, powdered sugar, raw sugar, turbinado, maple syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, agave nectar and sugar cane syrup
Proteins are essential to have in your diet daily because as an athlete flexing muscles, our proteins are constantly being broken down, transformed, and/or being rebuilt to make you stronger. Proteins are important in all of our major body functions, as they're the basic building block of our bodies. Proteins helps to provide structure to our muscles, make enzymes, transports substances throughout the body, maintain fluid and acid-base balance and may even serve as an energy source during longer endurance athletics!
Daily Protein Recommendations for an Endurance Athlete:
1.2-2.0g/kg (12-18% of total caloric intake)
Examples of Quality Proteins: Lean Meat Products (Beef, Chicken, Turkey, Pork), Tuna, Legumes, tofu, soy milk/yogurt, low-fat cheeses, cow's milk, peanut butter, walnuts, tempeh
Fats are the second type of fuel our bodies use to power through endurance activities. Each of us have a switchpoint where at a particular pace or heart rate, our fuel source changes from preferring carbohydrates to fats. These longer lasting, calorie dense fuel sources provide the body with essential fatty acids that can only be consumed through food, so eat up! In addition, fat adds flavor to food, and who doesn't like a little of that? And by the way, fats aren't just fuel! Research has shown that these essential fatty acids play a role in boosting your immune function and responding quickly to an inflammatory signal (like post workout muscle recovery). In terms of dietary sources of fat, I recommend you aim for most of your fat sources to be unsaturated, as the saturated has shown in research to cause negative effects in normal body function.
Daily Fat/Lipid Recommendations for an Endurance Athlete:
0.8-1.0 g/kg body weight
Examples of Quality Fats: Avocado, Nuts, Olive Oil, Olives, Fatty Fish (i.e. Salmon, Mackrel, Trout, Herring)
Iron is a common nutrient deficiency with Americans, and for athletes particularly those who focus on aerobic efficiencies, you've got to own your iron. This vital mineral helps to transport and utilize oxygen in our bloodstream to ultimately help produce energy in our brain & muscles. As an athlete, who doesn't want more of that? Furthermore, the bloodstream iron also helps to remove carbon dioxide (CO2) accumulation from respiration in the lungs. We want to maximize our lung field capacity, and become as oxygen-efficient as possible, so iron is key to this process. If iron levels are low, a person may experience fatigue, weakness, and difficulty maintaining a normal body temperature. If you're an athlete, low iron may feel like you're training at high altitude or always in a climbing phase, resulting in shortness of breath, high(er) resting heart rates, and lower power output. If you haven't considered the iron content in your diet, you may need to increase its intake by as much as 70%!
Daily Iron Recommendations for an Endurance Athlete:
- Women: 18mg → 30 mg
- Men: 8 mg → 14 mg
Examples of Iron Rich Foods: Clams, beef/dark turkey meat, salmon, tofu, dark leafy greens, dried beans (black, kidney, lentils), pumpkin seeds, and fortified cereals.
Tip to Increase Iron Intake: Pair iron-rich foods with vitamin C rich foods (oranges, grapefruit berries, bell peppers, kale, brussels sprouts, and broccoli) to help increase iron absorption.
As you are preparing for your upcoming competitions, don’t forget about how you are fueling your body! Be sure to include quality carbohydrates, proteins, fats, and iron in your daily intake. By putting your best fork forward, you will be sure to have your best competitions ahead!