The days are getting longer, the snow is beginning to melt (for you northerners), things are beginning to open up around the country, and a new racing season is “hopefully” about to begin! Spring is a great time to get to work on dusting off those forgotten places in your home – including your pantry, refrigerator, and freezer. Cleaning out the cupboards and stocking up on wholesome food will go a long way in getting you prepared for summer events – or an upcoming race season.
What’s in your pantry?
Perhaps you’ve perused the internet looking to stock up on the “perfect”, food, supplement, or nutrition product. Although many of these products may have a place in the recreational or competitive athlete’s kitchen, it’s important to remember that “you can’t out-supplement a bad diet” and there isn’t just “one food” or nutrition product that will improve your performance. A winning food plan is based on the fundamentals of eating: 1) meals and snacks evenly spaced throughout the day, and 2) a variety of nutrient dense foods from each food group – that provide adequate carbohydrates, protein, anti-inflammatory foods, and plenty of fluids.
Carbohydrates are the primary energy source for the endurance athlete, and they are necessary for performing intense, high quality exercise. Stocking your pantry with wholesome, carbohydrate-containing foods, (such as oatmeal, 100% whole-wheat bread, quinoa, potatoes, beans, brown rice, fruit, vegetables, milk, and yogurt) will provide important fuel for your workouts, along with providing essential vitamins, minerals and other important nutrients vital to your overall health.
Protein is essential to insure muscle growth and repair for faster recovery. Stock your pantry, freezer or refrigerator with a variety of lean protein-containing foods (chicken, fish, pork, turkey, lean beef, beans, legumes eggs, cheese, milk, yogurt, nuts, and, tofu). Plan for a serving of protein at each of your meals throughout the day (such as a palm-sized portion of fish, beef or poultry or a two-egg omelet with ¼ cup shredded cheese). Have convenient protein foods on hand so you can include about 20 grams of protein (along with carbohydrate) within 30 to 60 minutes following a workout. Simple snack ideas include Greek yogurt with nuts, granola and berries; peanut butter and banana sandwich; or tuna or chicken salad and whole grain crackers and grapes.
Anti-inflammatory foods to keep on hand include colorful fruits and vegetables, and healthy fats, such as nuts, seeds, avocado, olive oil, salmon and tuna. These foods and food groups provide the athlete rich sources of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that have anti-inflammatory properties making them an indispensable part of the athlete’s diet. Consider stocking up on frozen fruit and vegetables, as well as canned tuna and salmon, for individuals looking for shelf-stable, nutritious and cost-effective solutions.
Fluids or hydration-promoting beverages include water, herbal tea, low-fat milk and 100% fruit juice. Try to limit fluids containing added ingredients, like caffeine, artificial sugars and sugar alcohols, as these may contribute to unwanted GI distress and are not effective forms of fuel or hydration.
Put your pantry into practice
Once you have your pantry well-stocked and your nutrition and hydration plan set, test that plan to make sure it will work for you. Plan to cook and eat more meals at home. Pack your lunch and bring it to work with you. Experiment with home-made nutrition bars or snacks, like “energy balls”. In addition to exploring different foods and fluids with the intent of expanding your food selection, practice the timing of prep work and consumption of meals and snacks before or after activity.
Often overlooked, don’t forget to test out your nutrition and hydration plan in various conditions, such as environment, distance or intensity. Is your tolerance for your favorite foods affected by heat and humidity? Do you need more fluids and electrolytes in these conditions? Or, if training volume or intensity changes, do you need to adjust your carbohydrate intake up or down, or experiment with the amount or type of carbohydrate or sports drink consumed during training.
To help you know what adjustments you may need to make, consider keeping a food journal to track your workouts and food intake. Make note of how you feel before, during and after your workouts and if there are any habits or foods that are helpful or not so helpful for you to achieve your peak performance.
Finally, when it’s time for that first race of the season, or maybe even your goal race, be confident, keep your pantry organized and well-stocked, and stick to your plan! Just as you have practiced and prepared yourself with the best pace, recovery schedule and proper gear that works for you, the same is true with trusting your nutrition and hydration plan before, during and after the big event.