By Elaine Lanzon
Have you ever experienced “hitting a wall”? That is, you’re in the middle of a normal workout or typical race and your body feels like it’s running on empty? It could be because you didn’t fill up on the right nutrients beforehand.
While most people know that you shouldn’t engage in heavy physical activity on an empty stomach, you might not know what to eat to optimize your energy level and performance. Here are some things to keep in mind:
v It’s always good to eat a variety of foods from all food groups, but the most crucial fuel for exercise is carbohydrates.
v The most important nutrient for athletes is water; drink water before, during and after an activity to replace your body’s fluids.
v Although many athletes take vitamin and mineral supplements, they will not enhance performance unless there is a deficiency to begin with.
v Sports drinks can help replace water and electrolytes and provide some carbohydrates for energy. But please be sure to check the number of calories per serving on the nutritional label to make sure it’s worth it.
The most important meal is the one closest to the event. The functions of this meal include getting the athlete fueled up (physically and psychologically), helping settle the stomach, and preventing hunger.
The meal should consist of mostly complex carbohydrates because they digest easier and faster and help maintain blood sugar levels. You should also moderate fat, as high-fat foods take longer to digest and can cause sluggishness.
Substantial pre-competition meals are usually served 3-4 hours prior to competition; smaller meals or snacks may be served 1-2 hours prior.
What to Eat
Your imagination is the limit, but here are some meal suggestions:
· Hot or cold whole grain cereals with low fat milk and fresh fruit
· Whole grain muffin with low fat yogurt and fresh fruit
· Whole grain pasta or rice dish with stir fry vegetables
· Soups, stews or chili with lean meats, beans, barley and/or vegetables
· Turkey sandwich on whole grain bread with cold pasta primavera
If you’re looking for healthy snacks, try bringing along one of these:
· Whole grain bread or crackers with peanut butter or low fat cheese
· Soft or hard pretzels (low salt preferred)
· Homemade trail mix with a variety of unsalted nuts, dried fruit and seeds
· Fresh whole fruit, like bananas
· Light or plain popcorn
· Carrots and hummus
The amount of energy required by the athlete depends on several factors, including the type of activity, its duration, frequency and intensity. You may have to experiment for a while to determine the foods that work best for you. But experimenting is fun, right?
Elaine Lanzon is a holistic health coach, helping her clients to achieve optimal health and wellness through eating and lifestyle changes. In her free time she teaches Hartford children about nutritional cooking in an “Iron Chef” – like format, and partners with her dog, Daisy, to bring joy to the elderly and disabled.