If you’re trying to achieve optimal athletic performance, your training program alone might not cut it. Nutrition is a critical part of any exercise program and is a healthy way to improve your performance without any harmful side effects. It’s not just professional athletes who benefit from an optimized diet – weekend warriors can also take their fitness performance to the next level by eating the right foods. These foods may increase your endurance and strength no matter what fitness level you’re aiming for.
Fast-acting energy sources may provide a quick dose of energy from simple, refined carbohydrates, but the downside is a rapid drop in blood sugar after the initial spike. This can lead to fatigue, which then prompts us to seek out more of those foods to refuel, starting the cycle all over again. To avoid this feeling over the course of the day, it’s best to choose complex carbohydrates that are digested more slowly. Whole grains (like rice, wheatberries, oats, quinoa, and kamut), fruit, beans, legumes, and starchy vegetables like potatoes are good carbohydrate sources that keep blood sugar levels more consistent when you’re not prepping for or recovering from a workout. If you’re active, you should also make sure to eat foods with a high nutrient density, a concept that refers to the proportion of nutrients and energy.
Since carbohydrates are the most efficient providers of short-term energy for our muscles, they’re a great source of fuel for fitness performance. Having a small carb-containing snack – like a piece of toast with jam or a banana topped with honey and cinnamon – about 30-60 minutes before a workout can help you avoid a performance slump.
If you’re looking to experiment with new, research-based, endurance boosting foods, you could try eating beets or drinking beet juice. Just like celery, fennel, and leafy greens like arugula and spinach, the red root contains lots of nitrates. Eating nitrate-rich foods has been associated with increasing endurance and exercise tolerance during high-intensity exercise by increasing blood flow and oxygen availability to muscles.
Food for Your Muscles
Increasing muscle mass is not just for ambitious body builders. Building lean muscle tissue increases the resting metabolic rate, which allows our body to burn more energy even when we’re not working out. You might think that a post-bench press protein shake is all you need for workout recovery, but since intense training sessions burn lots of calories, refueling with a combo of macronutrients will help you feel your best. A post-workout meal that includes a balance of macronutrients, like a turkey and avocado sandwich on whole wheat or a veggie egg scramble with a side of fruit, can be just what your body needs to recover from pumping iron. It’s also important to make sure you drink enough fluid to stay hydrated and compensate for the liquids lost during your training session. Water is the foundation of your fitness performance and a lack of proper hydration can drastically reduce your ability to power through those final reps.
Working out frequently also increases the body’s need for micronutrients like minerals and vitamins. The most common micronutrient deficiencies are magnesium, zinc, iron, and vitamins A, C and E. However, a balanced diet full of fruits, veggies, lean protein, and whole grains is overflowing with these nutrients, so the same foods that will increase your endurance will also give your muscle-building efforts. Keep in mind that an increased intake of vitamins and minerals from dietary supplements, often listed as higher than 100% of our daily needs, won’t exponentially increase your performance and can sometimes be too much of a good thing. In this case, more isn’t always better. Healthful foods and beverages are a more filling (and cheaper!) way to fit in all of the vitamins and minerals our bodies need.
Ingredients to Combat Fatigue & Boost Your Metabolism
After a long day at work, we often feel tired and need an extra shot of energy for a workout. A cup of coffee or tea provides caffeine to reboot our brains and improve performance. You could also try adding fresh mint to a cool drink, like water or iced tea, to stimulate the senses for an extra boost. Hot spices like chili or cayenne pepper can perk up your taste buds, so adding them to a mid-afternoon snack – try sprinkling cayenne on mango slices –can get your engines started before your workout begins.
No matter the fitness level, athletes – yes, including you! – should focus on healthful sources of carbohydrates and protein. When it comes to fruits and vegetables, the more varied and colorful your choices are, the better – just like your workout wardrobe! Eating a balanced diet will power you through your workouts and keep you on track to look and feel your best.
- Food for Fuel: Sustaining Energy during Endurance Exercise
- Insights on Nutrition and Performance from Leslie Bonci, MPH, RD, CSSD, LDN