by Tracey Roizman, DC, DACBN
What if you could improve your game without breaking a sweat? How, you ask? There are several ways, not withstanding bribery, cheating and performance enhancing drugs. One effective tool all athletes can use safely, that won’t cause a scandal, is visualization. See the race in your mind’s eye, see yourself crossing the finish line, see the ball going precisely where you want it. Your mind gives the commands and your body will make it happen. That’s visualization.
Another valuable method of boosting your sports performance is through the wonders of chemistry. Nutritional chemistry, that is. Your body’s internal energy factory. You don’t have to be a world-class athlete to benefit from a little attention to a few details of what and when you eat. The good part is that all you have to lift is your fork or your water bottle. Want another good part? Your training diet works in your favor around the clock, seven days a week.
The right food at the right time will boost your endurance, increase your strength and help your body put itself back together better and stronger. You needn’t go back to school to become a nutritionist or hire a personal chef. Simply follow a few basic rules and you will reap significant benefits. Instead of breakfast lunch and dinner you’ll start to refer to your meals as “pre-workout”, “workout” and “recovery”. Well, not entirely, but you get the idea.
Sports nutrition doesn’t mean living on pills, powders, and gels. A healthy diet is a healthy diet whether you are an elite athlete, a devout avoider of all forms of physical exertion or somewhere in between. The main difference, aside from strategic timing, is that the athlete needs more carbohydrates, more water, and has slightly higher requirements for certain vitamins and minerals.
Your Pre-Workout Meal:
You will want your pre-exercise or pre-competition meal to be timed a couple of hours before you plan to exercise so that you will not be too hungry or too full. It should be low in fat and fiber as those foods take a long time to leave your stomach and can cause digestive upset.
Your pre workout meal should have lots of carbohydrates, moderate amounts of protein and lots of fluids. To avoid surprises do not experiment with new foods immediately prior to a workout. Some athletes do best on liquid meals prior to a strenuous workout while others can eat large meals with no ill effects.
Sufficient hydration prior to exercising ensures time for water to be absorbed so you’ll have enough reserves to get through the majority of your workout. When exercise is very strenuous and the temperature is high it is easy to lose water faster than it is possible to keep up with your body’s demand.
Your Workout Meal:
Its true, you can eat while you exercise! In fact, during workouts longer than an hour it’s advisable because you will become glucose depleted or hungry or both. A steady replenishing stream of carbohydrates and fluids is the highest priority. Research shows that it is more effective to eat steadily right from the start of exercising as opposed to waiting a couple of hours into your workout. That means not waiting until you feel hungry. In order to accomplish this task without stopping your activity liquid carbohydrate sources such as juices or commercially available powders mixed into drinking water will do the trick.
Optimal hydration guarantees better performance. You don’t have to dip into actual dehydration to suffer the effects of water depletion on your strength, speed and agility. So, don’t wait until you feel thirsty to drink.
Your Post Workout, aka, Recovery Meal:
The timing and content of your recovery meal depends on the timing of your next workout. If you are a triathlete who swims in the morning and runs or cycles in the afternoon you need to replenish glycogen stores in time for your second workout. Here, research shows that the quicker you start replacing lost glucose, i.e., eating carbohydrates, the better. If exercise suppresses your appetite try a liquid form of juice or a powdered mix added to your post workout water supply. This method will also speed absorption of carbohydrates since it bypasses several steps involved in eating and digesting solid food.
If your workout was very long or included significant resistance training it is likely that some muscle breakdown has occurred. Small tears in muscle fibers occur from strenuous exertion at levels reaching your strength limits. This will require protein, and the sooner the better. Moderate amounts added to your post workout meal will make it a bona fide recovery meal.
The idea of devoting the time and energy required to organize your meals to that degree might feel like a part time job and make you wonder if you really like exercising, after all. If you fall into this category, keep in mind that by eating normally it will take 24 hours to fill your energy tanks and repair spent muscle tissue. Plan the next day to be either a rest day or a low intensity workout.
Vitamins and Minerals – The “Other” Nutrients:
As health promoting as exercise is, it actually increases your body’s demands for antioxidants. Free radicals are a by-product of the manufacture of the energy that fuels your workout. To neutralize the harmful effects of these dangerous molecules you’ll need to have plenty of antioxidants on hand. Fruits and veggies are, of course, the first and best source of antioxidants. Supplementation with vitamins C, E, and A is also good insurance.
Several of the B complex vitamins are also important players in making sure that your cells’ energy production machinery moves quickly. A boost of B complex in supplement form is a good idea. Sodium is the primary mineral that gets depleted in exercise through sweat loss. Small amounts of calcium and some other minerals are also present in sweat. A well designed sport drink will give you the right proportion of important minerals and is a step up from plain fruit juice as part of your workout “meal”.
Most importantly, make your workouts fun. Do activities you enjoy that fit your schedule and lifestyle. And even though visualization is a great way to tip the scales in your favor, learning and applying the rules of sports nutrition will help fill in the gaps while you perfect your mental powers.