As an athlete, do you find yourself coming up a bit short in your workouts and races? Do you often find yourself “hitting the wall” when exercising for extended periods of time?
Well, maybe it has to do with how you are “fueling”. Just as the combustible engine needs fuel, so does the “human engine”. But, what type of fuel is the burning question?
I know I always like to compare the body to a machine or an engine and that’s because, I see the body in the same manner. Take your car for example. If it runs on gasoline, you don’t want to put diesel or kersosine in it, do you? Of course not, because the engine would pretty much be useless once the foreign fuel is detected. For the engine to be most efficient, the fuel needs to be as clean and pure as possible, free from debri and outside deposits.
The same holds true for our bodies. We are much more efficient when we supply our body with the right types of fuel, at the right times.
So, what is the “right” fuel? This is where things can get complicated, although they do not have to. In years past, our ancestors didn’t have to worry too much about WHAT they ate. For the most part, they were limited to the foods that were native and plentiful to their region. Not to mention, they really only ate what was provided by mother nature.
But now, modern civilization as an over abundance of “food” (too much so in fact). A diet that once consisted of fresh meats, veggies, fruits and whole grains, has since been replaced by a plethura of man made filler foods. Instead of having just a handful of menu options, we now have tens of thousands. Our wholesome diets have now been replaced with Skittles, Doritos and Hot Pockets (not food, but chemicals with a pretty label).
Our current society is sitting somewhere around the 60% mark for being overweight, and it’s only getting worse. We have become a society that bases it’s food choices solely on convenience. The mindset of “what is easier” is starting to trump “what is better”.
So, with all of these convenient food options readily available, how do we chose the right foods over the wrong?
A couple years ago, when I started making a conscious decision to improve my diet and lose some weight (I was 218 lbs at the time), I came up with a nutrition plan that I am still on today. Instead of trying to go on some fad “diet”, I knew that what I needed was a lifestyle change. With this approach, instead of trying to force myself to stay on a diet, I just made the changes that I knew I could stick with long term (or for life).
I started paying very close attention to nutrition facts, but more importantly the INGREDIENTS!! I came to the conclusion that I would severely limit “man made” and packaged foods. If I did choose a man made or packaged food, I looked for those that limited processing and those with minimal added preservatives and chemicals. If I picked up a box of rice, I wanted to see that the ingredients contained RICE, not rice + 14 other ingredients that I could not pronounce.
By sticking to this plan, I am now down to 155 pounds and quite possibly in the best shape of my life. Now, when Crystle and I grocery shop, we shop only for the week and fill our fridge and cupboards with mostly fresh foods and the occassional dry and canned goods.
I know many people believe that eating healthy is bland and also EXPENSIVE!!, but it doesn’t have to be. We will typically spend between $50-$80 per week and we have a variety of delicious meals to chose from.
With both of us being very active individuals, we need a lot of good, clean fuel to get us through our day to day life and activities (running, swimming, x-fit, etc). I myself have even went as far as giving up runner staples such as Gatorade, energy gels, Red Bulls, etc. I actually now make my own all natural Performance Drink. We try to minimize the amount of processed garbage that goes into our bodies on a daily basis. As they say “garbage in, garbage out.”
Here is a look at a typical weekly grocery list from Trader Joes
Fresh fruits (oranges, pineapple, strawberries, etc)
Fresh Veggies (asparagus, tomatoes, cucumbers, spinach, etc)
Canned Beans (black, pinto, kidney)
Grains (rice medley, quinoa, cous-cous, risotto)
Yogurt (Greek) or Kefir
Peanut Butter (all natural)
Pizza dough (for homemade pizza)
Lean meats (chiken, hamburger)
Frozen fruits (for smoothies)
100% Fruit Juices (carrot, beet, orange)
We will typically try to prepare several meals on Sunday, so that we can use for our lunches throughout the week. This past Sunday, Crystle made a really awesome homeade veggie pizza that will be used as part of her lunch for the proceeding 2-3 days. I like to prepare lots of natural and quick foods. I typically tend to eat lots of fruits, hardboilded eggs and oatmeal throughout the day. I like to stay with foods that my body can easily digest before my evening workouts. Generally, I only eat meat once a day (with dinner, post workout).
Instead of focusing on the Big 3 meals (breakfast, lunch, dinner), I try to focus on several smaller meals (snacks) spread across several hours. I will try to have one of these snacks (100-250 calories), every 90-120 minutes.
A typical day will look something like this
10 minutes after getting out of bed, a smoothie (1 banana, 1 cup strawberries, 8oz skim milk, 8oz carrot/orange juice, 1 scoop whey protein)
-9:00am- Bowl of fruit and 2 hardboiled eggs
-10:30-11:00am – Fruit, oatmeal, salad, beans or a grain
-12:00-1:00pm- Fruit, cottage cheese or yogurt
-2:00-4:00pm- Performance Snack, taken about 1-2 hours before evening workout (1 cup oatmeal mixed with 2tbsp of peanut butter and 2 tbsp honey).
-Immediately after workout- (whey protein shake, with added electrolytes)
-8:00pm- Grilled veggies (asparagus, brussle sprouts, endamame), Chicken breast, beans (black or pinto)
-Right before bed- (cassein protein powder, skim milk).
Now, let me be clear when I say this. I do not starve myself, nor do I ever worry about HOW MUCH I eat. My primary concern is WHAT I eat. If you are highly active, you need not concern yourself too much with calorie counting. But, if you are one of those overly parnoid types, or one who struggles with weight issues, then you can easily upload something like http://www.myfitnesspal.com/ to help track your “calories IN” vs. “calories OUT”.
Also, if you concentrate on eating well 80-90% of the time and you splurge a bit here and there, dont’ worry! You should not totally deprive yourself. Don’t be afraid to have that cold beer, slice of chocalate cake, ice cream, etc. A hard workout or a hard week of workouts should be rewarded.
As long as you are consciousness about the types of foods you eat, you will no doubt be doing yourself a valuable service.
So make some changes, fuel up properly for those tough workouts and honor your temple with some quality food choices. Oh and remember, “If the furnace is hot enough, anything will burn!” (a line from Once A Runner).