“Many athletes think performance starts with training, but really it starts with fuel.”
- Nancy Clark, Sports Nutritionist and Author
I began my talk by sharing a few over-arching principles that guide my day to day approach to fueling:
Quality in = quality out: Just as consistency in training is important in long-term success and achievement of goals, a consistent high-quality diet is essential in supporting that training. Fueling patterns over the long term are important for overall health, maintenance of immune function & maximization of energy levels. You can't out train an unhealthy diet!
To nourish is to flourish: A positive, nourishing relationship with food and our body is the foundation in which a healthy, high-performance eating plan is built upon. We ask a lot of our body day in day out, and in return, we need to be our own best friend, and provide it with quality "high-octane" fuel daily. While many athletes eat with the intention of weight loss, it's important to remember that chronic under-eating can cause athletes to lose too much muscle, resulting in impaired performance. The chronic calorie deficit that is required to produce weight loss comes at an especially high risk for athletes who burn high levels of energy in their sport, such as ultra-runners.
After a quick discussion of the importance of carbohydrates, protein, fat, fruits, veggies and fluids for athletes, I shared how each of these dietary components play a key role in optimizing recovery over the long haul. Remembering the "5 R's of Recovery" is a great reminder that recovery is not just one eating occasion, but a continual process that requires consistent quality fueling over time.
Critical Components of Recovery: The 5 R's
1. Rest: Sleep is the number one priority when it comes to optimizing recovery. This is the time when our bodies soak up the workload, rebuild and refresh. Hormones including human growth hormone are created while we sleep and directly impact our body's ability to repair itself. That said, it's also important to remember that every training plan should have built in rest days and periods to prevent injury, overtraining and burnout. No matter how great your diet is in regards to recovery fuel, you still need to honor yourself and your body by providing it with quality opportunities for rest & relaxation!!!
2. Rehydration: Post-workout, recovery starts with replacing fluids and electrolytes loss through sweat. In general, we are to consume 16-24 oz fluids per one pound body weight loss during a workout. That said, not all athletes monitor their weight that closely or have easy access to a scale around their workouts (especially trail-runners). Hydration status can also be monitored by keeping tabs on urine color and output aiming for light yellow or the color of lemonade as a positive indicator of adequate hydration status. Replenishment of electrolytes can come in the form of a sports drink or simply a salty snack (pretzels anyone?)
3. Replenishment: Carbohydrates are the primary fuel for muscles and adequate daily carbohydrate intake is critical for athletes wanting to perform their best consistently over time. To optimize the replenishment of muscle glycogen stores post-workout, it's best to consume a source of easily digestible or high-glycemic index carbohydrates within 30-60 minutes post-workout and pair it with a source of protein. Delaying carbohydrate intake too long reduces our body's ability to replenish muscle glycogen stores, may blunt the recovery process and often can set athletes up to over-eating later on. Generally solid or liquid forms of carbohydrate are fine, though liquid nutrition is generally "lighter" for those who lack an appetite post-workout (personally my two go-to recovery options are smoothies in the summer, soup in the winter).
4. Rebuilding: Protein works to maintain lean body mass, build and repair muscle fibers and supports the restocking of glycogen stores post-exercise. Athletes should aim to evenly distribute intake of protein throughout the day and consume in the range of 20-30 grams post-workout to optimize rebuilding of muscle fibers. Whey protein is considered the gold-standard protein option for recovery due to the fact it's fast acting (quickly absorbed and put to work in the body) and because it's a quality source of the amino acid leucine, which is especially critical for muscle repair, recovery and adaption. Once again, pairing protein with carbohydrate further enhances it's overall impact in aiding in the recovery process!
5. Reinforcement: It's important for athletes to understand that optimal recovery nutrition is a continual state of nourishing the body with high quality nutrients, not just simply post-workout. Fruits, veggies and healthy fats are our "nutritional armor" when it comes reinforcing our immune health and fending off exercise-induced inflammation. Fruits and veggies provide essential nutrients and antioxidants to help the body deal to combat stress, and skimping on F&V intake results in compromised immunity and weakened muscle fibers. Meanwhile, healthy fats are an essential component in a balanced diet and support immune health, hormone production and also help to combat inflammation. When athletes seek a diet that in too low in fat, they potentially impair the body's ability to absorb fat-soluble vitamins including vitamin D, impair their immune health and interfere with normal hormone production.
Want to learn even more? Check out the entirety of my talk with the Charlottesville Area Trail Runner crew by viewing the recording below... and don't forget to keep reading for your bonus recipe!
Anti-Inflammatory Green Smoothie
In honor of St. Patty's Day, I made this wonderfully green smoothie as my post-swim recovery (reality: I had no clue today was St. Patty's Day until about noon, lol). Anyway, the recipe incorporates each of the critical components of recovery (except for sleep, unless you consider smoothies are quick to make thus allowing you to sleep in longer, lol) and makes for a pretty tasty, nutrient-dense, power-packed beverage.
8-10 oz milk
1/2 c frozen pineapple
1/2 c fresh broccoli florets (stems removed)
1 handful fresh spinach (or other leafy greens of choice!)
1 serving vanilla protein powder (optional)
1 tsp matcha green tea powder
1" chunk of ginger, peeled
2 tsp ground flaxseed or hempseed
dash of cinnamon
Combine all ingredients in a mixer and blend until smooth!
This smoothie is packed with nutritional goodness when it comes to optimizing recovery! Here's the breakdown:
Kristen Chang is Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN), Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics (CSSD) and triathlete residing in southwest Virginia with her husband and dogs. Follow along as she shares favorite fueling recipes, general wellness and sport nutrition tips and stories from her athletic endeavors.
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