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General vs. Performance Nutrition
There are many different ways to eat and it is hard to distinguish which is the right one for you. Its even more confusing when you consider that the food you should eat for general health, longevity and well-being might not be the same as what you should eat for high performance. So here is how I fine-tune my nutrition to deal with this conundrum.
General health diet: Try to get most of your nutrition from "whole food sources". This means foods that are as close to what you would find in nature as possible. Eat lots and eat a huge variety. Try not to stick to any specific diet but instead eat sensibly and until you feel full. There is one caveat: If you have a sensitivity or intolerance to a certain type of food then avoid that food! Luckily we live in an era where you have gluten free or dairy free products available almost anywhere.
So, what does this diet look like? Lots of vegetables, whole grains, fruits, dairy, good sources of protein (not processed) and some seeds and nuts.
On top of this, if you have a "vice" don't refrain totally from it, but instead use it as a "treat" and eat it in reasonable portions. I like to eat as much "really good food" as I want. Then once I'm totally full from that, if I still want more, i'll nibble on something else. Usually this will only be a bite or two. Eating lots of the "good stuff" on a consistent basis over the course of many years will help protect your body from sickness, injury and burnout.
Performance specific: Now, when you are about to train, you have to look at what you've been doing before hand and how long/hard you will train. If you come into the workout relatively "topped up" on energy you might only need a banana or a sweet potato to fuel your workout or if its under 1 hour long and not super intense, you might need nothing at all.
When training longer or harder, or for consecutive days, or all of the above, here's what I do:
- Make sure I get some relatively easy to digest carbohydrates at least 90 minutes before. Ideally 2.5 to 3 hours before. This is usually oatmeal, sweet potatoes, rice or some whole grain bread. I also like to intake some beet juice concentrate at this point to top up hydration and get a performance boost in my training.
- Keep nibbling to stock up on you stores. This is usually a banana for me 60 minutes before training.
- Once you start training/racing, eat early and eat often. I love eating maple syrup gels or other sports nutrition like waffles, granola bars or even cookies. I try to intake 300-400 calories per hour.
- Keep this going, but if i'm racing or training more than 4 hours, I like to eat something "real" about every 90-120 minutes. This can be a PB&J sandwich on white bread if i'm out on my own and far from anything (they travel well!)
- Once you are finished, have something easy to digest right away. The sooner you eat, the sooner your body can prepare for your next training session! I usually finish with a smoothie, with some whey + collagen protein, berries, coconut milk and a little granola sprinkled on top.
As you see, you often need easy to digest, high carbohydrate foods to fuel your performance and training, however, outside of the training window, I return to the above "healthy" diet as soon as possible. My biggest advice is to eat when you are hungry, try not to "overthink it" and to eat in a way that you enjoy and which is sustainable. If you are trying to lose weight, make little changes and do so gradually.