We’re fueling our bodies for high performance. We fuel to perform, fuel to recover, and fuel to win. We want to perform our best in every situation. We want to have the energy needed to stay mentally focused and physically strong. We want to boost our immune system and speed the recovery process. Nutrition plays a critical role in all of our brains’ and bodies’ function, yet most of us adjust the way we eat only to make a change in body composition. How you eat impacts your brain’s ability to function, perhaps the most important variable in performance. By the end of this you will realize that performance is not about focusing on carrots and celery sticks. The way the body is fueled makes or breaks your performance period.
You might not realize it because you don’t know how great you can feel with proper fueling. The longer you consume foods that do not provide the proper fuel and nutrients, the more you cause inflammation and create an energy deficit. In fact, you’re probably operating at such a deficit, relying on sugar and caffeine just to get through the day, that you’ve lost the energetic feeling that comes only from putting the proper nutrients, the ideal fuel, into your body.
Those nutrients to do not magically appear; they must come from food. You need to look at your life, your day, and your meals and ask, “Am I making inspired choices with my fuel and hydration?”
When it comes to nutrition, are you leaving something on the table? From now on, think of nutrition and diet not as something to change your body composition. Instead, view nutrition as a process of making the most of every fueling opportunity – to fuel your performance day.
HOW TO EAT
The goal of nutrition is to provide the body with stable energy and sufficient nutrients to perform.
Build your plate with the compass guiding your choices.
FUEL = minimally processed, high fiber carbohydrates that provide sustainable
BUILD = lean proteins that provide the body building blocks for repair and recovery
PROTECT = healthy fats that decrease inflammation and nourish the brain
PREVENT = colorful fruits and vegetables that provide the fiber, vitamins, minerals,
and antioxidants needed for repair and immune function
HYDRATE = ½ to 1 ounce of water per pound of body weight per day
GETTING IT DONE: THREE CHECKPOINTS
Checkpoint No. 1: Fuel Checkpoint. This is a real-time checklist to use while preparing meals and evaluating what you eat.
Did your meal or mini-meal deliver in terms of fueling, building, protecting, preventing, and hydrating? Did you cover everything? To achieve your performance day, you have to nail this every time – or at least be at 80 percent or better 100 percent of the time.
Checkpoint No. 2: Fueling Strategy Checkpoint. There are 15 key strategies to follow in order to optimize your nutritional success. The more consistently you follow these strategies, the better you will feel, the faster you will recover, and the closer you will be to knowing that you are doing everything you can to cover your bases from a nutritional standpoint.
Here are the strategies:
- View food as fuel
- Hit 80/20
- Fuel with minimally processed carbohydrates
- Power with lean proteins
- Eat fats that give back
- Eat the rainbow
- Eat breakfast every day
- Eat every three hours
- Meet your foundational hydration needs
- Stay hydrated during activity
- Fuel for your activity
- Stay fueled during your activity
- Refuel and rebuild after your workout
- Reach the proper level of foundational nutrition support
- Compliment your training
Checkpoint No. 3: The Quick Nutrition Inventory. At the end of each day, simply rank how well you did in the key areas on a scale of 1 to 5. You should aim for a 4 to 5 in each category.
Mindset 1 2 3 4 5
Eat Clean 1 2 3 4 5
Eat Often 1 2 3 4 5
Hydrate 1 2 3 4 5
Recover 1 2 3 4 5
- Mindset: Did you have a proactive approach to fueling today?
- Eat Clean: Did you choose mostly minimally processed, nutrient-dense food?
- Eat Often: Did you eat breakfast within the first thirty minutes of waking and eat every three hours after that?
- Hydrate: Did you drink half of your body weight in ounces of water today? Did you lose less than 2 percent of your body weight during your activity?
- Recover: Did you properly fuel before, during, and after your activity? Did you take your multivitamin, fish oil, and other necessary nutritional compliments?
Bottom Line: Before you eat, ask yourself if that meal or snack is the best choice to Fuel, Build, Protect, and Prevent.
We do want to habitually consume the foods that nourish the body to give us the fuel to meet the challenges of daily life and perform at a world-class level.
Thus, food is fuel. When you have that energy and can perform better, you naturally perform and feel better. When you’re able to make the correlation between how foods affect your body and energy level, you’ll naturally gravitate toward them. You will stop eating and start fueling.
One easy way to get a jump start on the week and save lots of time is to do all of your shopping on Saturdays or Sundays, which will help you plan meals for the week. This is a great way to be proactive about your choices. A little planning, preparing, and organizing of your environment will provide a huge return on your investment.
When you don’t give your body the fuel it needs, it becomes catabolic, drawing fuel from and depleting your lean muscle – the very thing you’re working so hard to create. It’s the lean muscle or “lean mass” that burns calories at a greater rate, even when you’re resting. Unfortunately, this is the fist thing your body turns to for fuel in this catabolic state.
When your body lacks the proper fuel to run or recover, its ability to take on the stress of daily life and training is substantially compromised, and it never has a chance to fully heal. This unbalanced state makes you more susceptible to sickness, fatigue, depression, inflammation, injury, and loss of motivation.
1 | MINDSET
- FOOD = FUEL
- THE 80/20 RULE
Choose the foods that are the best for you 80 percent of the time and incorporate some of the foods that may not be the best, but are your favorites, 20 percent of the time.
Make It Happen: We are not, however, lowering the bar. This is not a relaxed approach to nutrition. Instead, it’s a program of mindful eating as opposed to the typical mindless consumption of food.
2 | EAT CLEAN
Eating clean refers to making the best possible choice wherever you’re selecting food. Whole foods are the best choice, since they’re unprocessed and unrefined, or at least processed and refined as little as possible prior to consumption. Whole foods typically don’t contain added salt, sugar, or fat.
When grocery shopping, you’ll usually find whole foods on the perimeter of the store. That’s where you’ll find the produce, meat and seafood, dairy, frozen foods, and other natural foods. These are refrigerated, which is no coincidence. The less processed a food is, the shorter its shelf life.
The middle aisles of a grocery store are the danger zones. Here you’ll find snack foods, baking supplies, cereals, sodas, and condiments. Many of these processed foods can (and do) remain on shelves for months. Generally speaking, it’s a good rule of thumb to work the perimeter.
- FUEL WITH MINIMALLY PROCESSED CARBOHYDRATES
As active people who want to boost mental focus and physical performance, carbohydrates are our primary fuel source. They provide energy for muscle function and act as the main fuel for the brain. Think of carbs as the fuel for your body’s gas tank.
Make It Happen: Not all carbs are created equal. Avoid processed carbs such as white breads, pastas, and baked goods. These have a high glycemic index, meaning they’re digested quickly and absorbed immediately, sending your blood sugar level sky-high. The problem is, you crash quickly and end up feeling sluggish.
Think “Brown and Close to the Ground,” a reference to both the color of the carbs and where the food was grown. Choose carbohydrates and grains with at least 3 grams of fiber to stabilize energy, keep you full, and protect your heart. Great choices include steel-cut oats, quinoa, kamut, lentils, 100 percent whole wheat bread, and sweet potatoes. Include fruits, vegetables, beans, and whole grains for their fiber and nutrient density. If you opt for pasta or couscous, select the whole-wheat option. If you reach for rice, opt for brown rice or wild rice.
- POWER WITH LEAN PROTEINS
Athletes don’t need more than 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight per day.
That might sounds like a lot of protein – and it is a significant amount – but consider how much protein is in these common foods:
Chicken (4 ounces, skinless, the size of a deck of cards): 35 grams
Cod or salmon (6 ounces): 40 grams
Tuna (6 ounces, packed in water): 40 grams
Lean pork (4 ounces): 35 grams
Lean red meat (4 ounces): 35 grams
Tofu (6 ounces): 30 grams
Cottage Cheese (1 cup or 1% or 2% fat): 28 grams
Milk (1 cup or 1%, 2% or fat-free): 8 grams
1 egg: 6 grams
1 egg white: 3 grams
Make It Happen: Protein intake should be split up over the course of the day, and it should be included in every meal or snack to meet your needs of 0.8 to 1 gram per pound per day. If you weigh 180 pounds, for instance, you would need roughly 180 grams of protein per day. Dividing that by six meals comes to 30 grams of protein per feeding.
Great protein choices are fish, chicken, eggs, low-fat dairy, Greek yogurt, beans, and legumes.
When it comes to selecting protein, remember this rule: The less legs, the better. The fewer legs on the animal the protein came from, the better it is for you. Fish don’t have legs, of course. Always choose grilled instead of fried, white meat instead of dark, and skinless instead of with skin.
You also should incorporate a post workout recovery shake into your routine. That mix will contain 10 to 25 grams of protein per serving, along with carbs. If you have one or two shakes a day, along with some combination of poultry and fish for lunch and dinner and a breakfast that includes yogurt or eggs, you’ll easily meet your daily protein goal.
- EAT FATS THAT GIVE BACK
Fats are needed for the absorption of certain vitamins and antioxidants. They release energy slowly, keeping the body satiated and regulating blood sugar, thus lowering glycemic response to other foods. Good fats provide powerful nutrients for cellular repair of the joints, organs, skin, and hair.
Make It Happen: Ensure that you include healthy fats at each meal with an enhanced focus on omega-3 fatty acids. Great fat sources are found in nuts (pecans, almonds, walnuts), natural butters, olive oil, flaxseed and flaxseed oil, hemp, chia seeds.
- EAT THE RAINBOW
When you look at your plate, you should see a rainbow – a lot of color in the form of fruits, vegetables, and high-fiber grains. Our bodies need vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and enzymes to perform. Fruits and vegetables provide nutrients the way nature designed. Both fruits and veggies provide our bodies with nutrients, but we need to focus on a variety of color coming from a number of sources. Fruits tend to be consumed more often, and we need to focus on our deep green leafy veggies and ensure those are incorporated on a regular basis.
Make It Happen: You cannot go wrong with any fruit or vegetable; however, these pack a serious punch: deep green leafy vegetable (kale, spinach, Swiss chard), berries, peppers, and beets.
3 | EAT OFTEN
Today, we know that if you want to control your blood sugar level and energy level to improve concentration, regulate your appetite, and build lean body mass, you must eat six small- to medium-size meals or snacks a day. If you can’t control your blood sugar levels, you’re going to have wild fluctuations in energy levels and moods and an impaired ability to concentrate.
Like a fire, your metabolism is in constant need of fuel. If you let it go for a long time without adding logs, the fire smolders and dies. Each time you eat (or add fuel to the fire), it cranks up your metabolism and burns more calories to digest the food. You have an efficient metabolism.
- EAT BREAKFAST EVERY DAY
Breakfast is, indeed, the most important meal of the day. Your body has been fasting since you went to bed, so it’s important that you “break the fast” not long after rising and keep your body fueled all day long. When you eat within thirty minutes of waking up, you jump-start your metabolism and fuel your brain. This gives you more energy to get your day going.
Make It Happen: Breakfast should include protein, carbs, fruits and vegetables, and fit fats. Examples include whole grain toast with natural peanut butter, yogurt, and a banana; oatmeal, berries, almonds, and a hard-boiled egg; and an English muffin with scrambled eggs and avocado with 100 percent fruit juice.
- EAT EVERY THREE HOURS
Make It Happen: After breakfast, eat smaller meals more often, spread evenly across the day. No excuses; you should be eating four to six meals per day. Aim for all three macronutrients (carbs, proteins, and fat) every three hours for proper fueling.
4 | HYDRATE
For all the advances in technology we still have not come up with something better to drink than water. Unfortunately, though, we tend to replace it with inferior beverages, ranging from soda to coffee to alcohol. Or we simply don’t drink enough.
Drinking sufficient water increases energy, improves the quality of skin and fascia, keeps muscles and joints lubricated, improves overall health, and prevents overeating. Hydration impacts your brain and your mental ability.
Proper hydration regulates appetite. Often when people think they’re hungry, they’re really just thirsty.
- MEET YOUR FOUNDATIONAL HYDRATION NEEDS
Make It Happen: If you’re unsure of your hydration level, take a look at your urine. If it’s a clear or pale lemonade color, you’re hydrated. If it’s a darker lemonade to apple juice color, you’re dehydrated. And if it’s dark and cloudy, you’re severely dehydrated and should seek medical attention.
|Body Weight (lbs)||Ounces of Fluid Per Day||Liters Per Day|
- STAY HYDRATED DURING ACTIVITY
Losing just 2 percent of your body weight due to fluid loss decreases performance. If you’re a heavy “salty” sweater or are training in an extreme environment, it is important to pay attention to the sodium content of your beverage. Cramping has been linked to electrolyte loss, specifically sodium loss. Choose a hydration beverage that has at least 200 milligrams of sodium per 8 ounces to maximize electrolyte replacement.
Make It Happen:
- Pre-training (1-2 hours before), drink 17-20 ounces.
- Immediately before training, drink 7-10 ounces.
- During training (every 10-15 minutes), drink 7-10 ounces.
- Post-training, drink 20 ounces for every pound lost.
5 | Recover
By now you should be thinking of nutrition in terms of fueling your body. But it’s also a key part of recovery.
Most people think of eating and recovering in terms of Thanksgiving dinner or other big meals. A “food coma” sets in that leaves you lethargic and wanting to fall asleep in front of the television.
Rather than recovering from eating, we want to think in terms of fueling to recover. This pertains not only to our post workout recovery fueling (more on that in a moment), but also how we use food to kick-start our day-to-day recovery from the stresses in life.
- FUEL FOR YOUR ACTIVITY
You never want to be deprived of key nutrients, especially when you train. Yet many people train first thing in the morning on an empty stomach. Training, of course, is a great way to start the day. But eat something before you train, even if it’s just half an apple with a handful of nuts, a slice of whole-wheat toast with natural peanut butter, yogurt, or a pre-workout shooter consisting of a half glass of watered-down orange juice with a scoop of whey protein.
Make It Happen: Regardless of what time of day you train, it’s crucial to fuel properly beforehand. Great pre-workout fuel includes: yogurt with ½ cup of berries and ¾ cup of high-fiber cereal; a small bowl of cereal with a banana; half a turkey sandwich and fruit; half a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and fruit; or homemade trail mix consisting of 1 cup of high-fiber cereal, 2 tablespoons of dried fruit, and 2 tablespoons of nuts. Be sure to hydrate with 16-20 ounces of water.
- STAY FUELED DURING YOUR ACTIVITY
You never want to run out of fuel during training. Endurance athletes know this as bonking, where they are forced to slow down or even stop due to insufficient nutrition or hydration. Regardless of your training, you’ll experience a similar deficit and frustration if you don’t take the proper nutritional measures. You want to maintain your fuel stores during training so that you can perform at a high level throughout the session, but also to maintain energy reserves for a strong finish.
Make it Happen: Regardless of the intensity of your training session, consume 7 to 10 ounces of fluid (about 4-6 gulps) every fifteen minutes. If the session is more than forty-five minutes long or is in intense heat, choose a sports drink with at least 200 milligrams of sodium per 8 ounces to help prevent cramping and maintain electrolytes. When your training level warrants the consumption of a sports drink for performance benefits, you’ll want to consume the equivalent of 30 to 60 grams of carbs per hour. This will ensure that you are properly fueled and feeling great during the session. All you need to stay fueled is 20 to 32 ounces an hour. Balance the rest of your hydration needs with water.
- REFUEL AND REBUILD AFTER YOUR WORKOUT
Make It Happen: When you’ve finished a workout, your cells are wide open and screaming for nutrients. The quickest and easiest way to replenish them is to consume, within ten minutes of training, a post workout recovery shake made with a protein powder (or supplement), such as 100 percent whey protein blended with a banana or EAS Recovery Protein. Prepackaged shake mixes contain an effective ratio or proteins, carbohydrates, and fat and are loaded with fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Since the shakes can be made by mixing water with a scoop or packet of powder in a covered plastic container or blender, they make a quick, easy, and portable meal that won’t spoil.
|Body Weight (lbs)||Grams of Protein||Grams of Carbs|
- FOUNDATIONAL NUTRITION SUPPORT
Make It Happen: A multivitamin that offers a full spectrum of antioxidants and B vitamins can fill in the gaps of your nutrition plan, sending in reinforcements in the fight against cellular-damaging free radicals, keeping your bodies and minds healthy. Fish oil provides powerful omega-3 fatty acids, which have anti-inflammatory properties and are essential for good cardiovascular health and mental clarity. The omega-3 fatty acids found in wild salmon, mackerel, lake trout, herring, sardines, tuna, and some types of white fish cannot be made by your body, so they must come from your diet. Unless you eat fish at least three times a week, you’re not getting enough omega-3s.
Vitamin D, also known as the sunlight vitamin, is an essential vitamin that helps increase immunity, improve bone health, reduce stress, and regulate blood pressure. Your body can make vitamin D by absorbing UVB rays from the sun through your skin.
Before starting any new complement (aka supplement), make sure you talk with your doctor or medical professional. Whenever possible, it is best to have your blood work done prior to picking your supplement doses.
- COMPLEMENT YOUR TRAINING
We prefer to think not in terms of supplements, but rather in terms of nutritional options that complement our training and foundational nutrition.
Food is always the first priority, followed by these complementary options that will take your performance to another level in a safe and ethical way.
The supplement industry is crowded with companies that sell products that are unethical and unsafe, and may never have been tested against their claims. What is in the product is not guaranteed to be on the label, and what is on the label is not guaranteed to be in the product, unless the supplement has gone through third party testing. For the professional athlete, this can mean testing positive for a banned substance. For the military this can mean taking a supplement that may have a negative impact on your health without knowing it. For the performance-minded individual, this can mean wasting your hard earned money on a product that will never line up to its claims. Your best bet is to confirm the safety and efficacy of a product has gone through third party testing. The two testing bodies out there that we trust most are NSF (www.nsfsport.com) and Informed-Choice (www.informed-choice.org).
These nutrient-rich options are packed with vitamins, antioxidants, and fiber, providing a powerful punch in usually a small amount of calories.
Some of these foods not doubt will be familiar to you, but perhaps you’ve never considered how valuable they are in terms of fueling your success. Some you might have dismissed after one tasting in childhood. You know what? It’s time to give them another chance. High performers recognize that there always are new (or old) methods to take their games to another level, and nutrition is no exception.