For most of us the dream of competing in the Olympics is long gone and left in its place is the sledging rights that comes with beating your buddies at a weekend event.
Many people are now turning to nutrition to find sporting performance improvements (and those all important sledging rights).
I’ve personally seen the faces of a couple of 40-somethings who, after changing their nutrition and downing a few key supplements, achieved personal bests which were set while in their 20s representing New Zealand; the look on their face being… “with a bit of training I could go pro!”
What you eat is literally the fuel your body needs to perform. Traditionally athletes would load up with carbohydrates like pasta and bread pre-event.
More recently a more balanced view of macronutrients has come to light, with some athletes getting fantastic results with a lower carbohydrate, higher fat/protein ratio.
In my experience, every athlete is unique and should work to find a diet that’s right for them.
For some, this might mean higher levels of complex carbohydrates like quinoa, rice and kumara, while others will run much better on a diet higher in protein and good fats like coconut oil.
In the modern world getting the calories is the least of our problems; the future of nutritional performance means ensuring that our metabolic pathways have all the nutrients they need for optimal function.
At the core of this increased athletic performance is energy production. If we can increase the rate at which our body produces energy and maintain this higher rate, you are going to see faster times achieved with less effort.
There are three levels to energy production; cellular, oxygen carrying capacity and hormonal, we want all of them working optimally.
Our body converts the fat, proteins and carbohydrates, ideally in the presence of oxygen, into ATP, our energy molecule. This occurs within our cells and is dependent on many B vitamins, magnesium and trace minerals.
Your body burns these nutrients in the same way it burns fats or carbohydrates, so the more you are exercising, the more you need.
Many people are B vitamin deficient, and that’s why they feel an improvement in their energy levels when they take a broad spectrum B vitamin supplement.
Oxygen carrying capacity
The most efficient way for our bodies to create energy is in the presence and use of oxygen. But if you haven’t got enough oxygen getting to the muscles then lactic acid builds up and performance drops.
Oxygen gets to your muscles by hitching a ride on red blood cells, and so if you haven’t got enough or well formed red blood cells they won’t be able to carry much oxygen.
The formation of red blood cells require iron, B6, B9 and B12 to name a few. Again showing that optimal nutrient levels can impact performance.
Hormones tell your cells what to do, so if you haven’t got enough hormones then your cells won’t produce as much energy as you want.
Ensuring optimal hormone function is a complex nutritional and lifestyle process, however the easiest way to look after your hormones is not to over-train. If you are feeling tired then that’s a recovery or stretching day rather than a training day.
Take home messages for improved sporting performance
Eat the right macronutrients for you
Eating the right levels of protein, fat and carbohydrate is going to help maximise energy.
Start experimenting with different breakfasts and pre-event foods to see which ones your body likes best.
I had one client who was an elite athlete and he found that chicken drumsticks were the best fuel for him when on a three-hour cycle race, certainly not traditional, but it worked for him.
Load up on the leafy greens
Leafy greens are the most nutrient dense plant food on the planet, meaning they contain the most nutrients per calorie.
Green leafy vegetables are one of the best sources of magnesium we have access to, and magnesium is essential for energy production.
Many athletes will experience magnesium deficiency as muscle cramps so I highly recommend eating green leafy vegetables three times a day.
High quality multi vitamins and high quality fish oil
Even if you are eating a fantastic diet it’s still very difficult to get all the nutrients (vitamins and minerals) your body needs for optimal performance, especially if you are working hard (at work) and also playing hard at your sport.
Unless you are eating fish four times a week, the chances are you are not getting enough of the essential Omega 3 fatty acids that are required to quell the inflammation that leads to those pesky next day aches and pains.
Hit the organ meat
Organ meats are a special category of super foods. Start with liver and kidneys for B vitamins and fat-soluble vitamins. Progress to sweet breads and mountain oysters to really give your system an edge.
Organ meat proteins are peptide specific, which means when you eat them they directly help your own organ function. They might not sound that appealing, but they are like rocket fuel.
Load up on CoQ10
CoQ10 is an energy carrier, it recycles an electron in your body, essentially giving you free energy. The best food sources of CoQ10 is hearts, served rare.
If you are not so keen on hearts then try a CoQ10 in a supplement form, look for a product that delivers 200mg of COQ10 per capsule and take 15 minutes before exercise for that extra edge. ¡