What to Eat and When for Top Performance

Samantha Rentz, founder of REAL, is fully qualified in Nutrition and Weight Management and assists individuals and celebrities with many nutritional programmes. She gives us some key points on what and when to eat to perform at our best.

Someone cutting vegetables

1. Don’t weigh yourself daily.
Pay more attention to how you feel and perform than to a number on the scale. Your weight and your fat are not the sole criterion for judging how well you are able to perform in sports.

2. Assess your protein needs.
The protein recommendations for both endurance and strength-trained athletes: from 0.5 to 0.8 grams per pound (1.2-1.7 g/kg) body weight. This is an amount that most athletes easily consume through their standard diet without the use of protein supplements or amino acid supplements. Vegetarian athletes should target 10% more, because some plant proteins (not soy but legumes) are less well digested than animal proteins.

3. Assess your carbohydrate needs.
Athletes in power sports need to pay attention to carbohydrates, and not just protein. That’s because strength training depletes muscle glycogen stores. You can deplete about 25 to 35 % of total muscle glycogen stores during a single 30s bout of resistance exercise.

4. Meet your calorie needs.
Athletes who eat enough calories to support their athletic performance are unlikely to need vitamin supplements. But athletes who severely limit their food intake to lose weight, eliminate a food group (e.g. lactose intolerance), or train indoors and get very little sunlight may require supplements.

5. Watch your iron.
If you are vegetarian or a blood donor, you should pay special attention to your iron intake. If you consume too little iron, you can easily become deficient and be unable to exercise energetically due to anaemia. Reversing iron deficiency can take three to 6 months; Prevent anaemia by regularly eating iron-rich foods (lean beef, chicken thighs, enriched breakfast cereals) and including in each meal a source of vitamin C (fruits, vegetables).

6. Fuel harder workouts.
Eating before hard exercise has been shown to improve performance. Fuelling during exercise is especially important if you have not eaten a pre-exercise snack. Popular choices include candy, dried fruits, as well as gels and sports drinks.  More research is needed to determine if choosing a sports drink with protein will enhance endurance performance.

7. Eat for recovery.
For optimal recovery, an athlete should target 0.5-0.7 g carb/lb (1.0-1.5 g carb/kg) within a half-hour after finishing a hard workout. You then want to repeat that dose every two hours for the next 4 to 6 hours.

8. Consider your workout intensity.
Whether or not you urgently need to refuel depends on when you will next be exercising. While a triathlete who runs for 90 min in the morning needs to rapidly refuel for a 3-hour cycling workout in the afternoon, the fitness exerciser who works out every other day has little need to obsess about refuelling.

9. Include protein.
Including a little protein in the recovery meals and snacks enhances muscle repair and growth. Popular carb+protein combinations: chocolate milk, yogurt, cereal+milk, pita+hummus, beans+rice, pasta+meat sauce.

10. Target cramps.
Muscle cramps are associated with dehydration, electrolyte deficits and fatigue, especially for athletes who sweat profusely and are “salty sweaters.” They need more sodium than the standard recommendation of 2,400 mg/day. Losing about two pounds of sweat during a workout equates to losing about 1,000 mg sodium. Salty sweaters lose even more sodium. If that’s your case, don’t hesitate to consume salt before, during and after extended exercise. The majority of active people can easily replace sweat losses via a normal intake of food and fluids. (Note: eight ounces of sport drink may offer only 110 mg sodium.)

If you can make time to train, you can also make time to eat well and get the most out of your training. Optimal sports performance starts with good nutrition!

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