In Part II, Cara Marrs, Honey Stinger athlete and Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, teaches you how to take care of your body before, during and after your race with antioxidant-rich foods along with complex carbs, healthy fats and protein-rich snacks.
As mentioned in Fueling Strategies: Part I, I cannot stress how critical it is to consume quality, nutrient-dense food on a regular basis. Consistency is king!
Foods high in antioxidants fall into this category, as we are constantly exposed to free radicals in our environment. Scientifically, free radicals are unstable molecules in the body searching to become stable. To stabilize themselves, free radicals typically steal an electron from the closest molecule they can find. The molecule stolen from loses its electron and becomes a free radical itself. This triggers a chain reaction of sorts that contributes to cell damage.
This is where antioxidants play a large role. The antioxidants found in whole, nutrient-dense foods stabilize free radicals by donating electrons to them. Once the antioxidant donates its electron, the free radical is stabilized, the antioxidant dies off without becoming unstable, and further tissue and cell damage is averted.
Now you can see why it is imperative to consistently replenish the body with antioxidant-rich foods, think organic produce like: kale, garlic, Brussels sprouts, beets, and berries. As an athlete, minimizing tissue damage is vital due to the fact that free radical damage is a natural part of the body’s aging process and endurance exercise increases this process within the body. In addition, human exposure to chemicals, alcohol, drugs, and smoke increase free radical damage in our bodies as well. These are a few of the many reasons why a healthy diet is essential for athletes.
When talking specifics on how to fuel before, during, and after training and adventures, we must keep in mind that what works best for each individual may vary. However, generally speaking, at the start of a long training day the focus should be on getting enough complex carbohydrates for energy, a bit of protein and some healthy, anti-inflammatory fats. What does this look like? A breakfast bowl of quinoa, avocado, spinach or kale, and eggs OR oatmeal with chia seeds, blackberries, and walnuts served with tea and honey. Keep in mind that on race day it is a good idea to decrease your fiber content just a bit to avoid over active bowels.
During a long training day or event, it is best to focus on energy foods that provide quick fuel and are easy to digest. Gels, chews, sports drinks, and homemade concoctions like energy-rich date balls are great to have on hand. Anything with a high fat content like a coconut, date and nut butter energy ball are good choices during cold weather activities like a ski tour, as they won’t freeze. Easy to digest gels and sports drinks typically work better in very hot conditions, as they require less digestion, something that can be effected by rising temperatures. Water should suffice for events under one hour. But for activities lasting longer, aim for 30-50g carbohydrates every 45 minutes. For example, 1 gel is typically 25-30g carbohydrates, while a bag of chews is 38g. Keep in mind that most people can only digest around 250-300 calories an hour while running or biking.
When celebrating your effort post-race or event, do not forget that recovery is an integral part of training. Grab a carbohydrate and protein-rich snack within 30 minutes of finishing, if you are not going to quickly get to a full meal. Some good options include a protein bar, a waffle with peanut butter, or almond stuffed dates. Plan to consume your full recovery meal within 1.5 – 2 hours of the activity. Focus on consuming good, quality protein sources to aid in recovery, carbohydrates for glycogen repletion, and anti-inflammatory fats (like almonds, walnuts, flax and chia seed, avocado or olives). My personal favorite is a big recovery bowl with the following: 2 cups antioxidant-rich veggies (can include but not limited to kale, Swiss chard, orange bell peppers, carrots, beets), brown rice or sweet potatoes, hemp hearts, avocado, and/or pumpkin seeds, and protein such as beans, chicken or tempeh.
You truly are what you eat, and we should all eat well to perform well!
Happy training and adventuring!