It is human nature to associate food with taste. Most people associate eating with recreation or pleasure. Many people turn to food for comfort, satisfaction and indulgence. And its common sense now, in this era of obesity we have found ourselves in, to associate food with weight loss or gain. Don't eat this because it will make you fat and do eat this because it will help you lose weight.
But what if we looked at food as how it will make us feel ... and perform? What if we looked at food as the drug that it is? Like the fuel that it is?
This was the epiphany I had at my first nutrition certifications. How we feel and perform is not just about our body composition, even our health and fitness level, but very much about what we ate before our workout, this morning and last night. Did we fill up our tank with premium? Unleaded? Worse?
Our performance, mood, energy, and wellness are very much controlled by hormones. Our food has a huge impact on our hormones. Insulin is impacted by each thing you put in your mouth. Did it stabilize, spike or crash your insulin level? The problem with "carb-loading" or taking in highly glycemic foods is that it spikes your insulin level and eventually crashes it. You may feel good and perform well for a while - but what goes up must come down. This can put you on a rollercoaster and also cause you to gain and retain fat.
The Zone Diet is all about staying in "the zone" of insulin balance and not riding this insulin rollercoaster. Eating balanced meals that do not contain highly glycemic foods keeps you in the zone.
Another diet that helps keep you in this peak performance zone is the Paleo Diet. Essentially it's the "caveman" diet or "hunter-gather" diet that follows a basic rule of thumb of "if you can pick it or kill it you can eat it."
The first few words of "World-class Fitness in 100 Words" written by CrossFit founder Greg Glassman, are: "Eat meat and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch and no sugar."
This is basically the Paleo Diet and the Zone Diet.
Now, since these diets have been widely accepted as great options for performance athletes, questions have arisen on how to approach pre- and post-nutrition for maximized performance. This is where programs such as Eat to Perform and Renaissance Periodization (among others) have come into popularity; they address the timing and quantity of nutrition before and after training or sport.
What the majority agree on is that it maximizes performance and recovery to sandwich the majority of your carbohydrate intake around your workout or competition. Some people who want to lean out have very low carb intake - around 20 percent - while others may be prescribed as much as 60 percent when they are trying to gain mass; others are more balanced, around 40 percent.
Either way, about 50 percent of your carb intake should occur within one hour prior to and within one hour after your workout or competition. This will accompany a balanced serving of protein and fat, but the extra carbs will help you fuel and recover from your performance.
They should be low-glycemic carbs like sweet potatoes or yams so insulin levels are not spiked and it should be noted that the rest of the meals throughout the day should be lower-carb. You are not necessarily intaking more carbs on training or competition days (except for extreme cases) but just taking more in around those times.
Off days should contain similar carb content but more balanced throughout the day. To find the magic "pre-workout meal" for you it may take some experimentation and trial and error. It may require weighing and measuring foods to determine the optimum blend of macros that are best for you. It may be 50 grams of carbs, 20 grams of protein and 10 grams of fat. It may just require trying different super foods to determine the best carb source, protein source and fat source for pre-workout and make that your routine.
It could be sweet potato, avocado and steak. Or it may just be a protein shake with a banana and almond butter.
Either way, it is always eye-opening to me that we are all just one meal away from feeling good and performing our best. We are also one meal away from feeling like garbage and performing like crap.
I have learned this the hard way through the sport of weightlifting. In weightlifting you cut weight to get down to the lowest weight class you can, while still maintaining strength, to be at your most competitive. After you weigh-in, you have exactly two hours to refuel before your competition. You can literally go from death's door at weigh-in to world champion on the platform within a couple hours by fueling your body with the exact right quantity of macros, vitamins, minerals, electrolytes and water in one sitting.
My best example of optimizing performance nutrition was at the World Championships in 2014 in Denmark. After cutting 20 pounds down to 4 percent body fat and traveling half-way around the world, I made my toughest weigh-in ever, and three hours later achieved a lifetime-best lift in the clean and jerk at 215 percent bodyweight or 322 pounds, weighing 150 - and won my first world championship. I could not have done so without the carry-on bag of pre-packed nutrition and hydration for that two-hour window I packed days in advance to be my best. Imagine if we approached every workout with even a fraction of that planning and purpose. If we fueled the machine we live in with premium fuel instead of unleaded or worse, we might actually run like race-cars instead of go-carts.
Think before you eat. It won't just help you look better, but feel and perform better, too.