Daily Foundation Eating
By Bob Seebohar
"What should I eat during the day?" That is, by far, the most popular question I am asked on a weekly basis from athletes. Of course it will depend greatly on what you enjoy, where you live, what training cycle you are in, what your body weight/composition goals are and any food intolerances or allergies. The main goal for all athletes in their daily nutrition should be to balance blood sugar. It sounds very simple and even with the amount of foods that are available today to help with this, it still seems that athletes have a tough time with its implementation. I have devised two very simple steps in navigating your road to optimal health and performance. I fully believe that simple is sustainable and these steps support that.
Step 1: Maintain blood sugar
I am a big supporter of teaching athletes about their hunger and eating when they know their bodies need nutrients rather than eating from habit or relying on a clock. Blood glucose ebbs and flows about every three hours so while it is important to eat frequently, it is more important to identify the hunger response and rely on your body cues to eating. However, it is difficult to do this if you aren't putting the proper fuel in your body throughout the day.
By using a few basic nutrition concepts, this becomes much more simple than you may think. Using the concept of "macronutrient shifting" will provide a higher satiety response which will keep you fuller longer throughout the day. This will also regulate blood sugar levels better and provide a consistent amount of energy without the afternoon "crash" typically seen in athletes.
Macronutrient shifting ensures that a lean protein, healthy fat, fruit and/or vegetable and a whole grain is eaten at almost every feeding. The combination of the protein and fiber from fruits, vegetables and whole grains will stabilize blood sugar very well and will increase the satiety factor. An additional benefit that I have noticed with the athletes whom I have worked with is that eating this way also helps to improve blood lipids and control body weight.
Putting this into action is much easier than you may think. The first step is to take a piece of paper and divide it into three columns by drawing two lines vertically. Label the top of the first column as "lean protein and healthy fats", the second column "fruits and vegetables" and the third "whole grains". Next, list the foods you enjoy and will eat in each column. Lastly, to put it together as a menu and/or shopping list, choose one from each column. Depending on which physical training cycle you are in, you may not need as many whole grains if your training load and stress is low. The most important thing to remember is to always combine a lean protein and healthy fat and a fruit and/or vegetable each time you eat. This in itself with regulate your blood sugar.
Step 2: Reduce inflammation
Not many athletes think of inflammation until an injury happens but the fact of the matter is that we have inflammation occurring at all times. Simple blood tests confirm that when athletes are in a high volume and/or high intensity training cycle, inflammation is increased. What this means to the athlete is that with increased inflammation, comes less blood flow delivery to and from muscles. This translates into less nutrients getting to the muscles and a decreased efficiency in transporting waste away from the muscles. In addition to sport, inflammation is a cause of some disease states. The good news is that you can reduce the inflammatory response through smart nutrition, specifically by consuming the correct fats.
Saturated and unsaturated fatty acids are the two classifications of fat. Saturated fats are very detrimental to heart health because they contribute to high levels of cholesterol in the body. Unsaturated fats (mono- and polyunsaturated) have many positive health outcomes. An inappropriate balance of essential, polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA's) can contribute to the development of disease while a proper balance helps maintain and even improve health.
Omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids are essential PUFA's, which cannot be made from scratch by body cells; nor can the cells convert one to the other. They must be provided by the diet.
Essential fatty acids (EFA's) have many very important functions, most notably as acting like hormones, regulating blood pressure, blood clot formation, blood lipids, the immune response, and the inflammation response to injury and infection. EFA's also serve as structural parts of cell membranes, constitute a major part of the lipids of the brain and nerves, and are essential to normal growth and vision in infants and children.
The omega-6 fatty acid, linoleic acid, is found in many popular vegetable oils and is consumed in excess in our society. This could lead to significant health problems because a high consumption of linoleic acid can lead to an increase in the production of eicosanoids that are involved in inflammatory, cardiovascular and immunological diseases.
The omega-3 fatty acid, alpha-linolenic acid, is not as abundant from food as linoleic acid but it is readily available in supplementation. Omega-3 fats very positive health outcomes including some of the following:
- Decreasing risk for coronary artery disease, hypertension and inflammatory disorders
- Improving insulin sensitivity for individuals with Type 2 diabetes
- Reducing tenderness in joints with individuals with rheumatoid arthritis
- Protecting against stroke caused by plaque buildup and blood clots
- Lowering triglycerides and raising HDL levels
Omega-6 and omega-3 essential fatty acids are best consumed in a ratio of 3:1 to maximize positive health benefits. Unfortunately, the ratio that exists in modern Western diets ranges from 10-30:1. Because Western diets include such a high level of omega-6 fats compared to omega-3 fats, very little omega-3 fats are converted into the healthy EPA and DHA compounds.
For most athletes, the easy take-home message is to eat omega-3 rich fish such as salmon, mackerel and tuna 2-3 times per week and begin the use of a high quality omega-3 fat supplement.
Following these two easy steps will begin the road to optimal health which will thus lead into a higher performance state. Of course there are many other concepts to implement but beginning with these foundational nutrition principles is a great start!
Bob Seebohar, MS, RD, CSSD, CSCS is a sport dietitian and elite triathlon coach. He traveled to the 2008 Summer Olympics as the U.S. Olympic Committee Sport Dietitian and the personal Sport Dietitian for the 2008 Olympic Triathlon Team. He has served as head coach for Sarah Haskins, 2008 Olympian, was a performance team member (sport dietitian and strength coach) for Susan Williams, 2004 Olympic Triathlon bronze medalist. He is the current coach of Jasmine Oeinck, 2009 Elite National Champion.
Bob's new book, Metabolic Efficiency Training: Teaching the Body to Burn More Fat, will teach athletes how to structure their nutrition and training program throughout the year to maximize their body's ability to use fat as energy and improve body composition. For more information and to order the book, visit www.fuel4mance.com or contact Bob at firstname.lastname@example.org