As a competitive cyclist, I am around athletes all the time.
It’s amazing to me what some of them eat, drink and fuel their bodies with before, during and after races.
The myth of ‘carb loading’ is still there, as well as attempting to fuel with sugary, chemical-laden substances before and during and after races.
Does it work? Well no, not really.
What do you eat to fuel your body properly for athletic performance?
It’s probably not what you think. Athletes and weekend warriors alike seem to always be looking for the latest powders, drink mixes, energy bars, supplements, gels, etc. to give themselves the ‘edge’ in competition.
We spend millions of dollars on ‘energy’ drinks and ‘energy’ bars each year.
While food manufacturers would like you to believe there are all kinds of performance-related nutrients in these things, it all really boils down to two ingredients: sugar and caffeine.
The rest of it is chemicals, chemically processed, and virtually useless ingredients as well as empty calories. Fueling your body with sugar and caffeine eventually leads to a decline in energy, not an increase. Sugar starts with a quick high, but it is followed by plummeting energy levels.
So, over the long run, any type of sugar used as a fuel will deplete you of energy.
In fact, any kinesiologist or chiropractor will show you how sugar dramatically reduces strength.
So where should an athlete get energy to fuel the fires to compete?
For any event lasting longer than a half hour, energy is going to have to come from a better source. Eating simple carbs like sugar, honey, corn syrup—even processed white flour as in pasta, bread, cookies, doughnuts, etc. before an event will cause a spike in blood sugar followed by a fall and loss of energy.
Simple carbs and even excessive complex carbs cause sluggishness and will hamper athletic performance in the long run.
Although many athletes still follow the ‘carb-loading’ principle, burning any type of sugar (carbs turn to sugar in the body) is not what the body needs over the long haul of an event.
Controlling the blood sugar and insulin is actually key to athletic performance.
When insulin levels are under control, the body will be more likely to burn fat for energy.
This is called ‘thermogenesis’ and any elite athlete has a body that is highly capable of this.
Why do we want to burn fat for energy? The body turns to burning fat for energy after only a short period of time in any physically demanding activity. Fat not only works for a long-term fuel for the body, it supplies a ready amount of ATP, which is the energy powerhouse for muscles.
ATP is the primary energy and strength-producing fuel within the body for muscles.
The more ATP available, the more energy your muscles have and the better you perform. Carbohydrates as an energy source only supply your muscles with 38 molecules of ATP per molecule. The difference when utilizing fat as an energy source is that a single fat molecule will produce 129 molecules of ATP!
That’s a HUGE difference!
That’s the difference between sustained energy in an athletic event and ‘bonking’. If your body has a habit of only using simple carbohydrates for energy, you will bonk after a short time.
So the difference between fueling with fat or carbohydrates comes down to the difference between a high level of athletic performance, or just being one of the pack.
Obviously the smart thing to do then, is to fuel your body with good healthy fats and protein prior to an athletic event.
How do you do this exactly? On a day-to-day basis, make sure you are supplying your body with adequate amounts of healthy protein, good fats, and complex carbohydrates (non-grain sources are the best).
Healthy fats for athletic performance are omega 3 fats with EPA and DHA in them, such as those found in grass fed meats, wild caught fish, and free-range eggs; saturated fats such as the kind you find in grass fed butter and grass fed meats; monosaturated fats such as coconut oil (full of medium chain triglycerides that provide many of the crucial metabolic constituents needed to burn fat effectively and boost energy) olive oil, avocados, and nuts.
Get protein from a high quality source to be sure you are getting the right amount of omega 3 fats, as well as the proper protein. Grass fed meat provides the best, most usable protein the body can use, along with other essential nutrients such as iron, zinc, CLA (a muscle building and fat burning nutrient), and a host of other vitamins and minerals necessary for muscles and energy.
Prior to popular beliefs, carbohydrate sources for athletes do not need to come from grain or starchy products.
In fact, in a recent experiment with a world-famous professional cycling team, wheat was removed from the training table, and healthier carbohydrate sources were substituted. The athletes found their performance, sleep and digestion improved drastically—even though the cyclists were not gluten or wheat-intolerant.
The best carbohydrate sources come from organic fresh, colorful, and antioxidant-rich vegetables and organic fruits.
So what’s the best combination of these foods for supreme athletic performance?
Well, follow these simple rules and you will find your energy levels and performance soar.
- Two or three hours before an athletic event eat a combination of healthy fats combined with a small amount of easy-to-digest protein and carbohydrates. Try organic free-range eggs, beef jerky, or wild caught fish; along with potatoes (white or sweet), brown rice or quinoa, and healthy fats such as grass fed butter, avocados, olive oil, coconut oil or fats from nuts.
- Just prior to your athletic event, eat fruit such as apples, pears, oranges, berries or bananas. These complex carbohydrates are easy to digest and will give you plenty of quick energy without the bonk later.
- During the event and also immediately afterward, avoid sports drinks and energy bars containing corn syrup, sugar, chemicals and preservatives. Refuel instead with healthier energy bars and drinks with natural lower-glycemic sweeteners like honey, maple, cane, brown rice syrup or stevia, and all-natural ingredients. Try one of USWM Good On Ya’ energy bars for superior energy and stamina.
- Afterwards, muscles are nitrogen-poor and broken down. You need to replace the amino acids and lost nutrients with high quality animal proteins like grass fed meat, wild caught fish, free-range organic chicken and free-range eggs; as well as replenishing complex carbohydrates with organic vegetables, brown rice, or potatoes.
Try utilizing these energy rules for your athletic endeavors and you will see your performance, stamina and energy soar! Sources: Dr. Ben Lerner, “Energy Rules for Athletes” posted by Dr. Mercola, September 2005, Mercola.com. Shane Ellison, “Fat for Energy and Raw Athletic Power”, The People’s Chemist.com, 2006