Nutrition and diet are a challenging subject to approach as many people are deeply rooted in their food habits and cultural preferences. There is no perfect diet or perfect food, and everyone cannot follow the exact same set of nutritional guidelines. Eating for health and longevity will look different than eating while training for a marathon, eating as a professional swimmer, eating with cancer, eating with lactose intolerance, or eating as a vegetarian. General guidelines suggest consuming more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains while limiting sodium, saturated fat, and added sugars. This is great for many people, but sometimes the rules need to be bent. An athlete sweating large amounts in a hot environment needs to eat more sodium. Right before a big competition or race, an athlete may need to decrease whole grains and high fiber fruits/vegetables in order to avoid digestive distress. During a long workout, athletes need added sugars to keep their bodies going when working hard.
Today I am going to share with you a few nutrition tidbits that are incredibly important and go beyond what you eat, focusing more on when you eat!
Eat a bigger breakfast
Many studies show the importance of breakfast – not only for better performance and recovery, but also for weight loss. A popular study showed how people had greater weight loss if they ate breakfast regardless of their caloric intake or macronutrient (carbohydrate/protein/fat) amounts. You may have heard the saying, “Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like a pauper.” If you do not give yourself enough fuel in the morning, you will likely be hungrier the rest of the day and have to make up for it… Which leads us to the next point.
Spread your food throughout the day
A recent study showed athletes who ate more consistently over the course of the day had better health and higher metabolisms. Cramming all your calories into dinner leads to a calorie deficit the rest of the day. Even if you are getting enough total calories, spending too many hours in a calorie deficit can cause hormonal imbalances including higher cortisol (an indicator of stress) and decreased metabolism. This can lead to injury, stress fractures, and further problems. Eating a big breakfast as mentioned above as well as having regular meals and snacks helps keep your energy levels more balanced. Here is a great article including graphs discussing this concept further.
Eat during prolonged exercise
When exercising continuously for more than 60 to 90 minutes, you want to consume food during the exercise to maximize your performance and prevent exhaustion. When training for a race or event, it is essential to practice eating while exercising to train your stomach to take in food and to figure out what you tolerate best. Always remember what works for your training partner or the professionals may not work for you – everyone is different! High intensity athletes usually prefer to fuel every 20 to 30 minutes, but you can spread your fuel out over longer intervals for lower intensity activity. Here is a great article on eating for endurance with more details.
Change takes time, especially when referring to food choices and meal times, and sticking with it takes effort. I work hard to prepare quality meals and fuel in a way that works best for me. Most athletes have a crew of people who help get them through their training, and I am no exception. My husband set up a table and water at the end of our driveway today, allowing me to practice picking up my fluids while running. My dad got us involved in a local race yesterday, which invigorated my love for sports and community participation. My mom fueled me with these amazing maple oat bars she made, as well as decorating cupcakes for a special day. Thank you!
Do you eat a big breakfast or a big dinner?