Until a few weeks ago, I thought I had my sports nutrition pretty well under control.
I’ve figured out how many electrolytes I need to keep my energy up and cramps at bay.
I’ve gotten in to a routine that makes it easy toe at 7-9 servings of veggies and fruit a day.
I suck down green smoothies after runs.
I’m finally getting in enough protein to maintain muscle mass.
What I was also still enjoying were my post run reward cookies and unfortunately the sugary cereals a couple brand partners were sending me because they know how much I love them.
SUGAR!!! Whoops!! More coming up on this, but what’s important is that not a single thing I mentioned was about calories and yet it was all key to my running performance. If we aren’t talking about calories, then what the heck do you use to gauge your food?
- Quality of your food
- How you feel
- How your workouts feel
- How are you sleeping
This is where sports nutrition takes us beyond the old school calculator thinking. Of course we need to be taking in enough to keep our muscles from metabolizing, but if you’re focused on the bigger picture you can usually ensure you’re getting enough.
“Calorie count is almost irrelevant if you are choosing foods that give your body the nourishment it needs.”
This is NOT a post to make you overthink food, but rather to rethink food.
Be done with good food, bad food and get started with food that feels good. Let’s start with what sports nutrition is, how it works and then a little more on calories.
What is Sports Nutrition?
Sports nutrition is a nutrition plan for athletes and active adults that allow you to perform at your very best.
Since it varies from person to person and can change daily, it’s essentially finding the right food that properly energizes your body to function at your peak level with every workout, run, game, etc. Learn more about working with a registered Sports Nutritionist to understand what they can do and who is really qualified!
Sports nutrition is all about fueling up with energizing food that is easy to digest (which in part typically means it’s good for you!) and helps your body to repair from each workout to improve and be ready for the next.Example – this hearty turkey vegetable soup!
Notice I haven’t once yet talked about calories? It’s not about just getting enough to provide energy, it’s about focusing on how foods will optimize your life.
Reducing Food Stress
You’ve heard about the stress of training, the stress of trying to block out a screaming toddler…but food stress? YUP!
Studies are continuing to prove to us that food is about more than calories. Poor food choices lead to issues with:
- energy levels
- athletic performance
- stress levels
Yes, not eating right can cause stress in our bodies! So on top of the physical stress your body feels from working out, the food you eat could be adding to it, which creates those elevated cortisol levels we often talk about in sucky performance and increased body fat.
Endurance athlete and creator of Vega, Brendan Brazier, is a huge proponent of reducing stress through proper nutrition and exercise. He’s one of the first places I heard this lesson and it immediately made sense to me.
High-net gain nutrition is a term coined by Brazier to describe what he believes it the optimal way of fueling for athletes. Food that requires little digestive energy for a substantial amount of micronutrients. In fact, he believes:
“…no such thing as overtraining, only under-recovering. Nutrition can speed it or slow it, depending on the quality of food…food is not necessarily synonymous with nutrition.”
Isn’t this the opposite of all current fitness magazines focusing on high fat or low carb or fasting?? Yes.
As runners, triathletes, crossfitters we want all of our energy to be available for improvements in training. The way to do this is through sports nutrition – both the food we eat and fluid we drink fuel our daily lives. Choosing foods that feel best are going to optimize our lives.
Which doesn’t mean sad or boring!! You can still enjoy delicious things like this healthy pizza.High net gain nutrition foods include:
- whole grains
These foods give us the biggest nutritional bang for our digestive energy. Braizer’s idea is that we want most of our energy focused on training, recovering and living, not on digestion. While fitness magazines try to point to picking hard to digest foods as burning more calories…could be true, but isn’t the fastest way to athletic results.
Low net gain foods include:
- processed foods
- synthetic supplements/vitamins
Many of the foods on the low net gain list are due to food intolerances and allergies which create inflammation throughout the body.
The Goal of Sports Nutrition?
It’s easy to get wrapped up in thinking about all the stuff we shouldn’t eat.
Like I mentioned above, instead of thinking about the things you should avoid – it’s easier to approach it by focusing on highly nutritious food that keep you energized. That’s ultimately the goal of the sports nutrition plan.
- reduce added stress on the body
- improve sleep
- improve recovery
- balance energy
- reduce craving for sugar
- improve endurance
- improve fat burning
I know for foodies this might sound like ugh just boring plates of beans, veggies and salmon. But no, no my friends, this is your chance to test out all kinds of delicious foods and usually with great simple recipes.
What About Calories?
Don’t get wrapped up in the numbers!
Remember, hunger is triggered by the need for nutrients! The key concept to understand is it’s NOT about the calories you’re enjoying.
Think of times you’ve had plenty to eat and still felt hungry. It was probably a highly processed snack or meal that left you full, yet your body needing more. I don’t know why my body can’t agree with my brain that a cookie is great fuel, but apparently it wants things like vitamins.
My favorite thing about this idea. .. getting focused on veggies as the bulk of our diets!
While Brendan from Vega promotes largely a raw vegan lifestyle, I don’t yet believe this works for everyone, so don’t feel like you need to make a drastic change. I’m all about experimenting to find the best balance for you.
I think there is a ton to be learned from what he shares in his book Thrive and even more to be gained from increasing our overall plant intake!
So if you’re feeling a little lethargic or like you’re not performing your best, think about all the reasons that could be causing that stress. Chances are, a lot of it could come back to your diet and the food you eat. If you feel like you’re in a rut – switch up the routine!
Challenge yourself to add a new vegetable to your diet each week, or take time once a week to meal prep healthy pre-workout snacks. And most importantly, focus on the food – not on the numbers!
What’s your favorite energizing food?
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