The task of framing the perfect nutrition plan can be a daunting task even for experienced athletes. However, as Amanda Carlson explains, if you break it down into different pieces and understand those individual parts that make the whole, you will discover that creating the perfect nutrition plan to meet your needs is just a series of simple steps.
In my work with athletes, I break down foundation nutrition into ‘10 rules to live by’. If you can ensure that you are following these rules day in, day out, you will build a solid nutrition foundation. Without that foundation, any nutritional fine-tuning simply won’t make that much of a difference. These rules are as follows:
1. Come back to earth. This simply means choosing the least processed forms of foods (specifically carbohydrates) when building the majority of your meals. Typically, the less processed the foods and the closer the food that you are eating is to its natural state, the better it will be for your body.
2. Eat a rainbow often. The vitamins and minerals that our bodies need come naturally from the foods that we eat, and especially from fruits and vegetables. Eating a variety of fruit and veg in a multitude of colours will help to ensure that you are getting the variety of nutrients that you need, resulting in enhanced recovery, improved energy production and immunity.
The following fruits rank in the ‘top 20 list’ of the American Cancer Society: blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, strawberries, Granny Smith apples, sweet cherries and black plums.
3. The fewer legs the better. Protein is a critical part of the diet for athletes, specifically the type and the amount. When focusing in on the type of protein, typically the fewer legs the animal has before you actually consume the protein it produces, the better the source. Fish, turkey, and chicken rank high. You need to be more selective with dairy, red meat and pork products. Low-fat dairy, lean cuts of pork and beef, and grass-fed four-legged animals are best!
"In order to optimise the benefits of a training session and jump-start recovery for maximal gains, it is critical to consume a post-workout recovery meal that blends both carbohydrate and protein."
4. Eat fats that give something back. It is recommended that 20-30% of the total calories come from fat. The best types of fats to include are raw nuts, seeds, olive oil, nut butters, and fatty fish. The forgotten fats are the essential fatty acids. These fats decrease inflammation but, due to their essential nature, must come from the diet.
5. Three for three. Eating consistently maintains energy levels (blood glucose), keeps the body in a fed state, and prevents mood swings and bingeing. Combining the three main nutrients (carbs, protein, fat) every three hours (hence the ‘three for three’) will prevent extreme hunger, which will make healthier food selection easier.
6. Eat breakfast every day. Eating breakfast every day is critical, yet it’s an absent habit for many. Breakfast doesn’t have to be complicated or time-consuming. Eating breakfast gives the body the fuel it needs and sets your metabolism up to function correctly throughout the day.
7. Hydrate. Dehydration equals decreased performance. You need to ensure that you’re hydrated before you even start activity! You need to think of hydration in terms of all day and during training. We recommend drinking ½oz to 1oz of fluid per pound of body weight (30-60mls per kilo) per day. Fluids should consist primarily of water and other naturally low- or non-caloric beverages, followed by 100% fruit juices, depending upon calorie requirements.
8. Don’t waste your workout. Even with the abundance of research on the importance of post-workout nutrition, I still see athletes skipping the recovery meal or snack. Unfortunately, many are still reluctant to consume calories after just burning them. However, in order to optimise the benefits of a training session and jump-start recovery for maximal gains, it is critical to consume a post-workout recovery meal that blends both carbohydrate and protein, within 45 minutes after training.
9. Supplement wisely. Supplements should ‘complement’ the diet and a mentality of ‘food first, supplement second’ should be employed.
However, there are a number of situations that warrant a basic supplementation protocol. Those of us who are not eating the fruits and vegetables we need on a regular basis and are restricting calories should consider taking a multi-vitamin. Those who do not get the recommended two to three servings of fatty fish per week should consider supplementing with an essential fatty acid supplement. Those who do not get the calcium they need, especially female athletes, should consider a calcium supplement.
10. Get back in the kitchen. In a world of convenience, travel and life on the go, we often turn to restaurants, fast food, and ‘quick’ food for our nourishment. Restaurants, regardless of type, do not take into consideration your calorie needs or your health when deciding upon their menu. At the end of the day, if you really want to optimise your body composition, hit your nutrient and calorie goals, and just eat cleaner, you are your best ally. The more you can prepare your own food, the more control you will have in the nourishment of your body.