By Jen Kates, Founder and Coach of Shift Human Performance
If you read my previous article on How to Get Leaner for Race Season in 15 Minutes a Day, then hopefully you took that guidance and started tracking your food intake for a couple of weeks by using an application on your phone or a simple food journal.
After your first two weeks of tracking your food intake, what are your initial observations upon looking at your food journal so far?
Are there any surprises you found with what you ate?
How about any surprises you found with what you drink?
What was your overall protein intake each day?
Most importantly, how was your energy on your rides/runs/swims (insert your activity or sport of choice here)?
There are three things athletes can do differently with their nutrition to have a greater impact on their overall energy demands and any goals you may have to prep for race season, including if you want to get a little leaner:
- Ensure you’re eating adequat protein to support lean muscle retention, strength, and recovery.
- Time your carbohydrates around your training and events (and be sure you’re eating ample carbs to support your recovery).
- Eat more non-starchy, colorful fruits and vegetables.
Let’s expand a little more on these things.
Eat Adequate Protein
Protein is needed for almost every cellular function in the human body, so it’s inclusion in the athletes’ diet is paramount. When you review your food journal, did you notice if you are eating an optimal protein source at every meal? When I say “optimal,” I mean that we need to make sure our protein sources are ideally a complete protein. Given this, nut butters aren’t necessarily the best option for a protein considering the amount of nut butter you need to eat in order to get 25-35g of protein in a serving. (Hello, fats,)
Ideally, most of us should be getting at least 25-50g of protein per meal, depending on our body size, composition, and our needs or goals. This is the equivalent of a portion of protein that is the size and thickness of your palm (or two palms if you’re a larger individual or if you perform an ample amount of strength training).
You may be thinking, “Fifty grams of protein? How is that even possible, and I thought our bodies couldn’t process more than 30 grams of protein at a time?” Ah, behold the magic of nutrition myths. It’s untrue that our bodies cannot process more than 30g of protein at a time, and we can safely consume protein as long as the overall health of our kidneys is good. Of course, keep in mind that aiming for 50g of protein in a serving isn’t for everyone and should be reserved for larger individuals or those of us who do ample strength training along with our endurance sports.
Ideal protein sources can include any animal products (seafood, chicken, turkey, beef, bison, pork), plant-based proteins, and any dairy products that do not trigger a sensitivity for you. We’re each so individual, so this all depends on what you enjoy cooking, eating, digesting, as well as your culture, since these things can influence so much.
Aim to consume a palm-sized portion of protein (or a scoop of your favorite protein powder) at most, if not all, of your meals if you are an average-sized female or a smaller individual. If you are a larger individual, then aim to include two palm-sized portions of protein at most of your meals. Keep in mind that this is only a starting point, and can be adjusted as you explore your energy, hunger, and training needs over time.
Eat Ample Carbohydrates and Time Them Around Your Training
Carbohydrates are our body’s ideal source of energy since it’s more readily available and it’s more efficient to process when we need it. Given the nature of many sports and activities in general, carbs are often the best source of fuel, so it can be important to include them in our pre-workout meal as well as our post-workout meal. Including them in our pre-workout meal allows us to be well-fueled for our training or event since the carbs are easily available, and including them in our post-workout meal allows us to replenish any glycogen stores (which are stores of carb within our muscles and liver) that we burned during our training or event, which helps speed up our recovery and readiness for our next training or event.
Aim to consume a minimum of a cupped palm or two of starchier carbs before and after workouts (which can be around 25-50g of carbs total). Examples of starchier carbs include potatoes, rice, quinoa, breads, cereals, pasta, oatmeal, etc. Please know that this is simply a guideline to get started in the right direction. If energy is waning, then aim to increase your carb intake a bit more by a half of a cupped palm at a time. Experiment and enjoy the process of discovery.
During long-duration training, it is best to stay ahead of your caloric needs in order to avoid the dreaded bonk. (If you’ve ever bonked, you know you never want to bonk.) This doesn’t mean that you need to replace 100% of your calories burned every hour, but it is ideal to replace around half of those burned calories, depending on your energy needs and digestion. If you know how many calories you burn on average, then aim to eat at least half of those calories every hour in order to avoid the dreaded bonk.
Eat More Non-Starchy, Colorful Fruits and Vegetables
Tracking your food likely made you realize just how little vegetables you may be eating on a daily basis. That is the beauty of tracking your food: it helps you realize just how little whole food sources you eat every day versus pre-packaged foods that may make up a bulk of your meals. This awareness is key in making sure you find ways to regularly increase higher-quality foods into your meals.
Vegetables get a bad rap. They’re bitter and can taste awful to the human taste buds unless they’re laden in fatty dressings and sauces. Because of this as well as your desire for convenience over health, you may reach for pre-packaged foods instead, simply because they can taste better and not bitter.
Well, despite veggies not being on your “favorite” list of foods, they still provide countless vitamins and minerals, which are paramount for athletes like you, especially if you’re training at a higher intensity and demanding more of our body. Aim to get a minimum of 5 fist fulls of colorful veggies per day (including fruits), depending on what your stomach can handle which includes greens, cabbage, broccoli, zucchini, cauliflower, peppers, tomato, cucumber, etc.
What if you absolutely abhor vegetables? How do you manage to consume more colorful veggies and fruits into your day? There are several ways to do this, but the easiest is by drinking a smoothie of some sort. A word of caution: smoothies can start to pack a lot of calories if you’re not careful with how much food you’re adding to it, so be mindful of the ingredients unless you’re in need of the extra calories - the easiest way to decrease the chance of including too many calories is to have spinach or some other green vegetable be a base for the smoothie since they’re nutrient-rich yet naturally lower in calories. Yes, these veggies will likely turn the smoothie green, but I can almost promise you that it won’t taste as bad as it looks.
In the coming weeks, we will be sharing some recipes you can test out yourself (some will even include Beta Red, you’re welcome), all of which can be customized to your preferences.
Again, experiment and enjoy the process of discovery to find out what works best for you and your situation and goals. If you have any questions or need a little extra guidance, email me at email@example.com and I’ll do my best to help you towards your goals.
In case you missed it, you can find the first part of How to Get Leaner for Race Season in 15 Minutes a Day here.
About Jen Kates, CHC, Pn2, NASM-CPT
Jen has been coaching for over 10 years and founded Shift Human Performance after working in the biotech research industry for 12 years. Through Shift Human Performance, she specializes in coaching busy professionals on how to unleash their full potential by optimizing their nutrition, fitness, stress management, sleep, and recovery, without spending countless hours in the kitchen or the gym.