When I say performance nutrition I mean food that makes the body perform more effectively in any capacity, whether you’re an elite athlete or a busy mum. Actually, through my research and experience I believe performance nutrition is slightly more important in the average person that has to juggle all aspects of life on top of training.
So what is this topic really all about? What I want to share with you is a brief run-down of food choices and make some comparisons for each meal of the day and also provide you with and compare several different dietary patterns and their benefits. From this information I hope you can draw from it a useful and workable plan for your own individual needs.
Carbs, protein and fat, the macro-nutrients and their relationship to micro-nutrients such as vitamins and minerals. How much? Why and when?
There is quite a bit of confusion here, most people either have a differing opinion or they simply don’t have a clue at all. My recommendation is fairly simple, however there are various considerations, which I will cover first.
Carbohydrates should account for about 40% of your overall diet. They should come from unprocessed sources and should be low glycemic index, meaning they don’t have a radical response with your insulin levels, which is your number one fat storing hormone. Also note that I recommend all carbohydrate foods be useful and not just carbs for the sake of carbs. This means that they should contain a certain level of vitamins and minerals, hence my recommendation to always get your carbs from fruit and vegetables and rarely ever from wheat or sugar products.
Protein should account for close to 30% of your caloric consumption. Protein is good from most sources, however it is recommended that high protein foods that also contain other nasty things should be avoided. I’m referring mainly to things that are high in saturated fat or trans-fats, which indicate a high level of processing. Also keep in mind that the only complete proteins are from animal sources, particular meats. Although vegetables are still a great source of protein if combined correctly.
Fat should account for the final 30% of your diet and needs to come from liquid fat sources, nuts and seeds. Fat should never come from processed foods like margarine and animal products should be limited. Fat is an essential nutrient for a number of functions, so do not try and completely avoid it. Fat is responsible for the production of testosterone and other hormones and it also helps to keep blood sugar fairly stable. So eat plenty of fish, nuts, olive oil, canola oil, vegetable sources and any other natural source. Even dairy, to a limited degree, is a great source of a certain type of fat that helps immunity and helps to reduce body fat.
Now lets look at various methods of eating and how they compare….
The first thing worth noting is the whole frequent meals way of eating. This is great for losing body fat while maintaining or building muscle mass. Frequent meals, such as 6-7 per day will help to increase your metabolic rate and you use all of the energy during daily activities.
Caloric restriction is common to an extent in certain circles now days. What caloric restriction really means is not starvation, it is simply a reduction in calories by around 20% of your normal daily intake of calories. The sole reason for this diet pattern is longevity, as this is one thing that has been extensively proven to increase one’s life-span. The main caveat is that although calories are reduced, all micro-nutrients (vitamins and minerals) must be obtained, otherwise effects are detrimental to health rather than useful.
The standard three meals a day diet. This is an argued pattern by many people. Many people are now advocating the highly frequent meals pattern, however it’s not the only way. Three meals per day is perfect for a busy person as long as it is balanced. Following this pattern of eating is not best practice for losing a large amount of body fat or even just getting to that final layer, however it is fine for performance goals and general day to day fitness.
The warrior diet is what I most closely follow in terms of nutritional patterns. This basically involves eating light throughout morning and during the day then having your major meal at night. I recommend everyone eventually should strive for this pattern of eating. The reasoning behind it is that your body during the day is hyper-awake and aware, hence the sympathetic nervous system is working hard for the body, while diverting blood away from the digestive system, so you are less able to effectively digest large amounts of food. At night time you are more relaxed and primarily using the parasympathetic nervous system, which allows the body to most effectively digest food. This goes against popular thinking that says not to eat too many calories before bed time.
Finally we have intermittent fasting. This involves periods of time where food is not consumed at all followed by periods of normal eating. Fasting periods can be regular 8-12 hour fasts or less frequent 24 and even 48 hour fasts. This method is similar in nature to caloric restriction in that it has been shown to increase life span. I recommend this to be used along with the warrior diet when thinking of long term health.
Ok, so you know enough to make an informed judgment on which pattern of eating suits you specifically, so it’s now time to compare various food choices and where they vaguely might fit into your overall diet.
Breakfast is a major point of confusion, I mean what is suitable? First of all I will say that all breakfasts can be the same as each other when comparing eating patterns, the only thing that differs is size. Keep in mind that I generally follow a Paleolithic model, which rejects the consumption of any type of grain, processed or otherwise. I do, however consume dairy products to a certain degree.
Breakfast is frequently cereal or toast for most people, however these are the worst choices due to their processed and short lasting nature. Most often by mid-morning you are ready to eat a horse and you are likely flat and have had enough of the day already. The first meal of the day needs to include plenty of protein, quality carbs that last all day and fat, especially the fats. Low fat chicken breast and a banana is a great source of breakfast food, as it provides all the requirements. I also recommend soft cheese served with salmon and leafy vegies such as baby spinach. Hopefully you can see a pattern in there and make your own informed choice towards coming up with a breakfast food that sticks to the protein and fat requirements while limiting processed carbohydrates.
During the middle of the day I believe that you need to simply balance out all the nutrients just like with breakfast, the only difference being that it needs to cater to the cumulative activities throughout the day such as training. Salads with meats/eggs/cheese are the simplest choices along with vegetables served with a protein source. So a garden salad with chicken or green beans and garlic prawns or tuna served with vegetable sticks are all good choices. Keep it simple and fresh and avoid useless and unnecessary calories. Simple really.
Night time should be dominated by protein generally as this will be the primary building block after training sessions during your recovery time in bed. I generally like to vary the source of it such as using four bean mix in a salad, eating 5-6 eggs with a dense salad, steak and vegetables without mashed potato served with a generous serve of broccoli or mixed, non-root vegetables. Also suitable is stir fry with a very limited serve of noodles or rice.
It’s all quite simple really, meet the macro-nutrient percentages and get it from the best sources such as fresh foods and avoid grains and processed foods.
I must note though that this is very broad and general information and I can’t cater to everyone with all their varied goals and current state.
For something more personal, including a comprehensive fitness programme and nutritional plan then I recommend checking out our online PT page www.endlesshumanpotential.com/best-online-personal-training.html
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