No runner can expect to set a personal best without putting in the miles and no lifter will get to the next level if he’s skimping on his weight routine. In order to see success, you have to devote time and energy to your workouts. Unfortunately, even the most dedicated athletes can find their results lacking despite a robust training plan. Exercise alone simply isn’t enough. Eating right has a huge impact on your physical abilities. SFGate explained inadequate nutrition can lead to poor performance, slower recovery, and a compromised immune system. That’s not exactly a recipe for fitness glory.
Think for a moment about professional athletes, because they definitely don’t subsist on cheeseburgers and doughnuts. Runner Ryan Hall told Men’s Fitness his go-to meals include salads, sandwiches, salmon, sweet potatoes, and tons of fruits and vegetables. Even athletes who aren’t concerned with being light watch what they eat. Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt sure eats a lot, but it’s all carefully selected. He told FOX Sports he eats two breakfasts, which include lots of eggs, oatmeal, fruit, whole-wheat bread, and whole-wheat pancakes. Favorites for lunch are sandwiches, mashed sweet potatoes, and broccoli. Even when he indulges at the move theater he goes for popcorn without butter or salt.
The pros know they can’t get away with feeding their bodies crap, so you should take their lead. Of course, the specifics of nutrition can be pretty confusing. The wrong foods before a race could leave you lacking energy. In order to help you reach your fitness goals, we’ve put together a simple guide. Start eating better today, and you could soon reap the rewards.
1. Keep food groups in balance
Most guys, particularly ones who like lifting weights, are all about protein. For the most part, it’s smart to focus on this nutrient since it helps keep you satisfied and boosts muscle growth. It can be hard to figure out your needs, though. Four eggs might seem like a ton to one guy, and completely insufficient to another. According to Men’s Health, guys looking to build muscle should aim for .73 grams of protein per pound of body weight every day. If you weigh 170 pounds, that means you’re looking at 124 grams.
Keep in mind, more isn’t necessarily better. Men’s Fitness said too much of the nutrient is just going to load you with extra calories that you may struggle to burn. Additionally, too much protein can strain your kidneys and lead to dehydration.
Reducing or eliminating food groups is a popular strategy for people looking to shed some pounds, but it really isn’t a good idea. Bodybuilding.com said our nutritional needs can be broken down into a pie chart composed of fats, proteins, and carbohydrates. Increasing or decreasing any of those components causes the other two to shift. If you focus too heavily on protein, you won’t get enough of the vital fats, fiber, or other nutrients you need to attain your goals. Fruits, vegetables, grains, and oils should all find a place in your diet. That means no more skipping out on carbs, especially if you’re a runner.
2. Get your timing right
Eating certain foods can impact your efforts at the gym as much as what you eat. Most of us nosh on granola bars, cereal, or toast for breakfast, saving the protein-heavy stuff for later in the day. Eggs might be a better bet. A 2014 study found people who ate a moderate amount of protein at each meal were able to use that protein more effectively to fuel their muscles than those who got most of their protein at the end of the day. Men’s Health recommended going for a high-protein meal a few hours before you hit the gym, and another one no later than 2 hours after you wrap up your workout. It’s a bit trickier for guys who like to sweat it out in the morning. If you find yourself in this group, the post-recovery meal is even more essential.
If you’re preparing for an event or planning a particularly hard effort, your focus should shift toward carbohydrates. Why? Your body can process those calories much more quickly than they can for either fats or proteins, which keeps your energy levels high. You want simple carbs here, not whole grains. While nutritious, all that fiber is just too hard to break down when you’re working hard and it could leave you feeling sick. Active.com recommended 30 to 60 grams of carbs for every hour of effort. This might be the only time it’s advisable to eat gummy bears, so enjoy.
3. Don’t slash calories
Whether you’re just getting into fitness or you’re looking to set a new record, you need to think about how many calories you’re eating. Most folks assume they should slash the number as much as possible to get lean and strong, but drastically reducing your consumption could backfire. Active.com explained drastically cutting calories forces your body to go into survival mode, which means it works hold on to every bite you eat.
Guys who are hitting it hard at the gym should start thinking about food as fuel. Skimping on the amount of energy going into your body limits the amount that comes out, meaning your athletic performance will suffer. Men’s Health explained reducing your consumption too much prevents you from training at a high level. Anytime you’re increasing the intensity or duration of your workouts, you need to match those efforts with the amount you eat.
4. Cut out the junk
When it comes to food, you should always think about quality. Not all calories are equally beneficial. A quick comparison illustrates exactly what this means. According to Calorie Count, ½ ounce of potato chips is 78 calories. One hard boiled egg is similar at 72 calories. What’s not so similar is the nutritional value. Apart from simple carbs, saturated fat, and salt, you’re not really getting anything from that measly bit of chips. The egg, though, is packed with protein, vitamins, minerals, and healthy fats. Which do you think is going to do a better job of fueling you through your afternoon bike ride?
Even if you exercise all the time, a diet of fried mozzarella sticks and doughnuts isn’t going to do you any good. Life by DailyBurn explained these nearly-nutrient-free foods can’t support your hard efforts. You need quality protein and carbohydrates to get results.
5. Eat for recovery
After a hard workout or competition, what you choose to eat can make or break your recovery. Immediately following your efforts, you should focus on a good balance of carbohydrates and protein. Men’s Fitness suggested opting for eats like Greek yogurt, whole-grain cereal with milk, and wraps made with whole-grain tortillas. The carbs will help replenish your glycogen stores while the protein will help repair your ailing muscles.
Particularly intense efforts might leave you feeling sore. You can ease that pain and speed your recovery with some foods you might not expect. A 2010 study from New Zealand found blueberry consumption helped accelerate the rate of muscle repair after exercise. Similarly, a 2010 Oregon study revealed cherries helped minimize post-workout muscle pain among runners. Consider whipping up a fast fruit salad for dessert. You’ll satisfy your sweet tooth and prime yourself for your coming workouts at the same time.