By Karen Sherwood, Nutritionist at Sports Club/LA Boston
If your body is your vehicle, then food is its primary fuel. Certain foods can set you soaring for hours, while others will face-plant you in 15 minutes. Therefore, it’s pretty safe to say that not all “fuel” is created equal. So, what should we be eating to truly charge the body through its hours of running, cycling, swimming, skiing, dancing, or any type of sustained workout? Here are a few of my favorites:
Around 25-30% of an athlete’s diet should include healthy fats. Coconut oil is an athlete’s best friend. It contains MCT’s that get absorbed in the bloodstream more like a carbohydrate than a fat, making it excellent for endurance, recovery, and stamina especially when consumed in small amounts throughout the day. You can put 1 tbsp. in a smoothie, use it as a butter substitute, or as cooking oil. It can even be thrown into baked goods instead of butter and can now be purchased at almost any grocery store and stored at room temperature.
Coconut water is perfect for electrolyte and carbohydrate replacement and can be consumed before, during, and after any activity. So, if you’re going to sweat for more than an hour, take a swig! Or mix it with 1 part water and drink throughout the day.
Omega 3 fats
Redness, pain, heat, and swelling are the 4 symptoms of chronic inflammation, the root cause of disease. Over-exercising can take its toll on not just the muscles and joints, but the organs of the immune system, and when combined with stress, chronic illness, and poor eating habits, you’re left with a large recipe for inflammation. Omega 3 fats are considered “essential.” Since the body doesn't make them on its own, that means we must get them from our plate. Eat plenty of fish like wild caught salmon, sardines, black cod, and herring. Algae and fish oil supplements are also encouraged since they contain the longer chain EPA/DHA fats. Also try ALA chain fats such as walnuts, flaxseeds, and chia seeds.
Yes, runners, it’s for you too! Just because you’re not weight lifting doesn't mean the muscles don’t need to be fed. Sometimes we focus way too much on the carbohydrates that we forget what’s responsible for not only maintenance and repair, but nearly every chemical reaction that takes place in the body. Whey protein is one of my favorite forms of complete bio-available protein, (meaning it contains all of the essential and non-essential amino acids). These amino acids are in charge of preventing muscle tissue breakdown. They keep blood glucose steady when combined with a slow-releasing carbohydrate creating the perfect balance of stamina and energy.
For an extra bonus, whey protein also helps support the entire immune system because it contains cysteine, which helps protect cells from free-radical damage. The best way to consume whey is in the form of a shake. One scoop should contain approximately 20-30 grams of protein. Feel free to add a small amount of fruit (1/2-1 cup) and 1 Tbsp. of a healthy fat, like ground flaxseed, raw nut butter, or coconut oil.