Life slows down after many an athlete’s peak performance years. Hours spent in early morning training sessions on the rink turn into Thursday night sessions in a “beer league.” The fast-paced double headers on the diamond turn into the home run derby known as slow-pitch softball, and your gridiron fame now better translates into amazing moves on your fantasy football lineup rather than a nice cut in the backfield.
But varsity athletes never truly lose their zest for being a top performer. Once an athlete, always an athlete. It’s just that as you approach your thirties and into your forties (I hear 40 is the new 20 by the way) your body just can’t handle the rigors of daily training. You certainly can’t gorge on cheeseburgers and Twinkies with the reckless abandon that you once could. Except for the Crossfit crowd, most of us just can’t burn the thousands of extra calories per day that we once did.
That’s why focusing on a proper plan for performance nutrition can be important to an athlete at all points of the lifespan. Whether you’re training for a marathon or doing your best to tackle a Couch-to-5k plan on your smartphone, you need to follow some basic principles to get the most out of your body. Keep these five principles in mind as you begin tackling your new year’s resolution to get back into shape:
Stock up on high-energy foods.
It might sound “bananas,” but carbs are not your enemy. Before you hit the road for your long run of the week, make sure you fuel up with some simple as well as complex carbohydrates to sustain you from the beginning to the end of your training session. Bananas, with their quick shot of natural sugars, are perfect for this. The potassium and fiber are also a plus, taking them longer to digest then simple refined sugars.
Balance your plate.
Too much of the good stuff, fats and carbs, is never a good thing. In the case of getting ready for the big game, you will need to make sure you balance your meal to include the appropriate portions of lean protein, starches, and vegetables. Whenever possible, lead with whole grain options to ensure you pack in long-lasting, slow-digesting carbs like brown rice or whole wheat pasta; 25 percent of your plate. Keep your meats lean so you don’t take in energy sucking excess fat; another 25 percent of your plate. Load up on vegetables, especially leafy green ones that are full of B vitamins and help your body convert food into energy; half of your plate. Think of spinach as your “performance enhancing drug.” Just like Popeye, you’ll load your muscles with enough energy to crank a softball past that paunchy accountant roaming around the left field.
Time your meals for consistent energy.
If you’ve got a 10 p.m. ice time with your beer league hockey team, you’re going to need to space your meals out into three or four small ones throughout the day. Sitting down to a big plate of spaghetti and meatballs after work with the family is a recipe for disaster on the ice. You’ll be lucky to make it through two periods of play. Start with complex carbs early in the day and then taper into more protein and vegetable dishes later on in the evening. Get a quick shot of energy from some trail mix or a granola bar before the game.
Evenly space out your fuel throughout the day.
Building on principle three above, make sure you’re taking in your fuel at appropriate times during the day. If you hit the gym right after work, you should give your body the right amount of protein and carbs throughout the day to get through your workout. Then plan a high-protein meal to follow the workout within an hour of finishing. This will greatly aid in muscle recovery, and mixing in some dark leafy greens will help knock out inflammation.
Your eating plan should change based on your training regimen.
You’ve spent all summer training for that road race in August. You killed it and beat your last PR. Now what? If you’re going to take a couple of weeks to recover before starting a new training routine, you need to adjust your meals accordingly. Taking in hundreds of extra calories and packing in complex carbohydrates on a daily basis is perfect leading up the big race. But if you continue that routine while you are tapering down your training plan you are sure to pack on the pounds. Slow your roll after your race and shift to more protein and vegetables.
Your next trip to the gym or your goal to survive a triathlon can be way more productive by following these simple guidelines. It’s the perfect time to experiment with some new recipes, and even declare a meatless Monday for a while so you can focus on putting more vegetables into your tank as you fuel up for top performance. Remember, no matter how much you change your diet, that 18-year-old is still going beat you on the breakaway. You just have the smarts (and energy) now to scoop up his rebound after a blown shot to hit your winger who’s just now making it back to mid-ice.