Eating a healthy, well-balanced diet is fundamental to your overall well-being.
For athletes and fitness enthusiasts, nutrition is critical in their workout performance and recovery. From energy bars and fruits to lean proteins, eating the right fuel at the right time will ensure you make the most out of your workout.
Benefits of sports nutrition
The right foods, consumed prior to, during, and after exercising, can provide significant energy and strength to maximize your workout.
The benefits of optimizing nutrient intake include:
- Improving muscle performance
- Improving muscle recovery
- Increasing strength and power
- Reducing feeling of fatigue
- Stimulating fat burning
- Better anabolic response (muscle growth)
As you can see, nutrition has an enormous impact on your ability to carry out a fitness routine effectively. And without the right nutritional habits, you will see little to no improvements in your overall physique.
Top power foods to maximize your workouts
To reveal all that hard work you put in at the gym, nutrition has to be a part of your fitness equation. Whether your goal is muscle growth, definition, or strength, the following macronutrients will help you realize your performance goals quicker than just workouts alone.
Dietary protein sources are essential for any fitness routine, particularly strength training. Because lifting weights causes your muscle fibers to break down, protein is used to help repair and rebuild muscle tissue during recovery.
But protein does so much more than simply give you bigger muscles and support muscle recovery.
Protein is responsible for other bodily functions such as the maintenance of muscle tissues, aiding in biochemical reactions (through enzymes), providing structure and elasticity to various organs and body parts, and so much more.
Foods with significant sources of protein
As part of a balanced and nutritious diet, the preferred dietary protein sources to consider are:
- Skinless, white-meat poultry
- Lean cuts of beef
- Lean cuts of pork
- White-fleshed fish
With a wide variety of protein sources available, it’s easy for any individual to incorporate protein into their diet.
Recommended daily intake
While protein is essential to good health, consuming too much can lead to weight gain over time, increased risk of heart disease, calcium loss, and other health complications.
The ideal amount of daily protein will vary according to the individual’s needs. As a minimum recommended intake, experts recommend a daily average of 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight.
Adults who strenuously exercise with weights will require 1.4 to 1.8 grams of protein.
Carbohydrates serve as an essential fuel source for your body. A diet rich in carbohydrates ensures your body has enough fuel to endure any type of physical activity. Without carbs, your body is starved of its primary fuel source.
When carbohydrates are digested, they are converted into glucose and stored within the liver and muscles. During any type of physical exercise, the stored glucose is converted into energy, allowing you to perform the required activity optimally.
Limiting carbohydrate intake can play a significant factor in how an individual can perform during workouts. The low availability of carbohydrates forces your body to pursue alternative fuel sources (typically, fat).
When protein is used to make energy, it cannot perform its primary function of repairing and rebuilding your muscles.
High-carbohydrate foods to fuel your workout
Carbohydrates are generally categorized as simple or complex carbohydrates.
Most simple carbohydrates are primarily sugar and come from unhealthy sources like candy, soda, and syrups; however, several natural food sources like dairy and fruits are also categorized as simple carbohydrates.
Simple carbohydrates are fast-absorbing, meaning they can be quickly used as energy.
Complex carbohydrates, on the other hand, contain higher amounts of fiber and starch. The more fiber consumed, the slower your body can break down the carbs into glucose. Complex carbohydrates are ideal as a sustainable energy source.
Examples of natural, complex carbohydrates to include in your diet include:
- Brown rice
- Butternut squash
- Fiber-rich vegetables
Recommended daily intake
Because carbohydrates are used as your body’s primary fuel source, consider eating 100-150 grams of carbs per day.
For individuals looking to lose weight, 50-100 grams per day will suffice. Any lower than 50 grams per day will force your body into ketosis, which burns your body’s stored fat instead of carbohydrates.
Dietary fats like avocados, extra virgin olive oil, and fatty fish provide your body with an alternative fuel source should you decide to maintain a low carb (20 to 50 gram) diet. Consuming a healthy amount of dietary fats also helps to lower your risk for certain cardiovascular diseases.
Healthy fats to include in your diet
There are four types of fat, which include monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, saturated, and trans fat. Unsaturated fats (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated) are considered healthy fats. Saturated fats and trans fats are potentially harmful, particularly in excessive amounts.
Several examples of healthful high-fat foods are:
- Chia seeds
- Dark chocolate
- Fatty fish
- Olive oil
- Whole eggs
Recommended daily intake
For adults on 2,000 calories a day, the recommended daily calories from dietary fat should not exceed 20-35 percent. Of course, this recommended daily intake will change depending on the individual’s lifestyle and diet.
Specific diets like the ketogenic diet or the Mediterranean diet have a higher suggested daily fat range than the recommended guidelines above. Regardless of the preferred diet, it’s essential to stick to healthy fats rather than unhealthy ones.
Fueling for optimal results
As evident above, choosing the right foods is vital. But if your goal is to maximize exercise performance, it’s not enough to just eat right. Being thoughtful about what you eat before and after your workout will further enhance every exercise, no matter the activity.
Eating quality, complex carbohydrates 1 to 2 hours before your workout will give you the energy you need to power through it. If you can’t eat a healthy pregame meal before a workout, eat fruit (like a banana) or an energy bar 10 minutes before you exercise.
Post-exercise, consume some lean protein to stimulate muscle growth and recovery. Any sort of lean protein will work, from protein powders to whole food proteins. You should also refuel with carbohydrates as a workout will deplete your body of its glycogen source.
Don’t forget to hydrate at all times. Being dehydrated during a workout can result in muscle cramps or other issues. Grit+Tonic sports nutrition carries a wide range of sports drinks, bars, and more that help to boost your performance and keep you well-hydrated.
As a final note, remember that every person is different.
Each individual has specific fitness goals they want to meet. What may work for one person may not work for you. It’s imperative to listen to how your body responds to new pre- and post-workout eating habits and adjust accordingly.