Sunday, July 25, 2010

The Performance Edge: Ingredients for Success

It's racing and competition season.  A strong training program and a solid nutrition plan are key factors for performance, recovery and overall health regardless of whether you're an endurance athlete, crossfitter, climber, etc.  From a nutrition standpoint, success lies in using high quality 'ingredients' at the correct times.  Here's a quick summary of what you need, why you need it, and when it's most effective.  Combine these guidelines with a smart training program and adequate hydration and you'll be unstoppable!

Carbohydrate (Carbs)
Why: Carbs are the primary fuel source for muscles during exercise.  It is important to keep muscle glycogen levels high in order to perform optimally and avoid "hitting the wall", "bonking", or what I like to refer to as "I got nuthin' syndrome". 
When: Contrary to popular belief 'carb loading' and glycogen replenishment isn't a day long project.  The body and muscles are most receptive to a carbohydrate load immediately post-workout. Additionally, some fast-digesting carbs before and during workouts may be necessary to maintain glycogen stores during long workouts and races.
What:  The best carb choices aren't the first that come to most people's minds.  While they may taste good; pasta, bread, bagels, cereal, and other grain products are not the most optimal fuel sources.  Among  many other negative effects, they are comparably low in vitamins, minerals and fiber when placed against fruits and vegetables such as yams, sweet potatoes, and bananas.

Why:  Muscle breakdown naturally occurs following exercise and protein is key in reversing this process.  Protein is built from amino acids; the Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAA's), valine, leucine, and isoleucine, are the 'Big Three' when it comes to muscle building and repair.
When:  Like carbohydrate, the BCAA's are most effective in the immediate post-exercise period.  Combining high quality animal protein with high quality carbohydrate helps the muscles both refuel and rebuild, resulting in improved recovery and a stronger next workout.  Additionally, it is important to consume adequate protein throughout the day in order to keep the muscles in an anabolic state.
What:  Animal proteins from lean, grass-fed, omega-3 rich, organic meats and wild caught fish, are the best sources of BCAA's and the most effective for muscle recovery.  Replacing grains and starches with high quality animal sourced protein both post-workout and throughout the day is a great way to reduce recovery time and enhance performance in your next workout.

Why:  Fat is often treated as the "Bad Guy", but it is simply not true!  The body needs fat for energy, absorption of fat soluble vitamins - A, D, E and K, cell formation, temperature regulation, healthy skin, and much more.  Fat also promotes satiety and adds enjoyment and flavor to meals.
When:  Fat should be incorporated in all meals and snacks with the exception of heavy loads immediately pre- and post-workout, as it slows nutrient absorption and digestion.  Rapid delivery and absorption of carbohydrate and protein during these periods is necessary to promote optimal refueling and recovery for performance focused athletes.
What: Focus primarily on long chain mono- and polyunsaturated  fat sources.  Avocado, fatty fish, walnuts, and macadamia nuts make good choices.  Although highly saturated, coconut is also an excellent choice.  Coconut, coconut oil, coconut milk and other pure coconut products are rich in medium chain triglycerides which among other benefits help to support healthy immune function.

Now you've got the full recipe for training, racing and competition success.  As with all recipes, quantity and quality of the ingredients can make or break the finished product.  And a very wise person once said, "You can't out train a cruddy diet."

**These guidelines are geared toward a performance focused athlete.  If weight loss and leaning out are your goals the recipe looks a little different.**



  1. great post Amy.
    cuts right through the crud.

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