In a world that celebrates very few body types, it’s almost an act of rebellion to fuel for performance, rather than “diet and exercise.” But fortunately, more female athletes are understanding the importance fueling adequately, and focusing more on athletic performance than pure aesthetics. Which is why I am so fortunate to have a great friend, who also happens to be a world class registered dietician, specializing in female athletes.
Lindsey is the owner and founder of Rise Up Nutrition, and host of the Female Athlete Nutrition podcast. She’s also one of my favorite running buddies, and because of her passion for nutrition, we usually end up talking shop on our runs together. We decided to get together to share some of our best tips for fueling with performance in mind. These little nuggets will help you ensure you’re eating enough to train your best, even if you’re short on time!
7 Tips for Fueling for Performance
- Prep for Challenges – As a working mom, I’m all too familiar with the concept of being short on time. And for many women, one of the first things we sacrifice is eating well. So if you’re one of the millions of women who struggle to find time, meal prep specific meals that you might be tempted to skip (breakfast for example). One of my favorite things to do on Sunday afternoon is make a batch of protein pancakes, a loaf of banana bread, or some oatmeal breakfast cookies for the week.
- Fuel Up Before You Go – Whether it’s an easy training day or a hard training day, fasted workouts aren’t advised. If you train in the morning, cortisol levels are high which can add unnecessary stress and cellular damage, impair training response, and delay recovery. By having even just a small pre-workout snack, whether it be a piece of toast or an applesauce, you mitigate the cortisol and enhance your body’s response to training. And even better, since carbs are your body’s primary fuel source, pre-training fuel can actually help you push harder and get more quality out of your workout. For afternoon or evening workouts ensure a meal or snack at least 1-3 hours before that session to have enough energy to get through!
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- Variety is the Spice of Life – It can be so tempting to eat for convenience, which isn’t honestly the worst thing in the world from time to time. But it’s also important to remember that in order to get a variety of nutrients, we have to eat a variety of foods. As easy as it can be to eat the same yummy foods on repeat, make sure to shake it up occasionally so you’re getting a variety of vitamins. This doesn’t mean you need to eat broccoli just for vitamin A if you’re not a fan, but it does encourage you to try some new things and incorporate a variety foods you actually enjoy.
- Don’t Skip Protein – If I had a dime for every time another woman told me she tends to buy “low fat foods,” I could probably quit my 9-5 and just blog full time. The diet industry has a long history of targeting women, and encouraging them to buy diet foods that are low in calories, low in fat, and generally low in substance. Fortunately, nutrition education has come a long way in the past couple of decades, and more women are learning the importance getting an appropriate amount of protein. Protein is vital for muscle recovery, and if you’re training hard, your body needs a good amount of protein to recover adequately. That doesn’t mean you should skimp out on fats and carbs, but it does mean that women shouldn’t shy away from protein (trust me, it won’t make you “bulky”).
Related Post: 4 Signs of Over Training
- Do Skip Comparison – This isn’t just good advice for nutrition, but life in general. Specific to fueling, though, don’t compare your plate (or body) to anyone else’s. You don’t know what your colleague, friend, or mom are doing on a day to day basis, or their specific fueling needs. Back when I actually had to go in to an office to work, there were very few days that went by that some well meaning coworker commented on the volume of the food I brought to work (I was known for my cooler of food and purse full of snacks). What most of my coworkers didn’t know was that I run marathons and CrossFit multiple times per week. Comparing your intake to someone else’s is a waste of time, and can distract you from focusing on your own needs and preferences.
- Don’t Forget the Electrolytes – Fueling appropriately is incredibly important, but for endurance athletes, it’s not just about solid foods. In order to perform at your absolute best, you’ve got to make sure your replenishing your electrolytes. Especially if you’re working out in the heat! Electrolyte imbalance can lead to GI Distress, increased perception of fatigue, and hyponatremia. For any workouts longer than an hour, make sure you’re taking in not just water, but some sort of electrolyte like Nuun or Liquid IV.
- Supplement wisely, but fuel with food first! The majority of your performance nutrition success will come from fueling well day to day, using all the tips above! In certain circumstances, supplements can add an additional benefit. But no amount of supplements will mask poor nutrition! Focus on food and fueling first. Once you’ve got that down, consider what things you might need more of. For example, if you have blood work that shows low iron or vitamin D, an iron and Vitamin D supplement will certainly help. If you are vegan, you may benefit from some additional BCAAs and Vitamin B12. If you are dairy free, do your best to get calcium from non-dairy alternatives and consider a calcium supplement after talking to your doctor! Ultimately, address food first, then determine what might still be lacking. When you do supplement, consider the safety and quality. Choose supplements that are certified safe for sport and verified for quality and accuracy of ingredients such as NSF for Sport and Informed Choice or USP certified and always double check with your dietitian or doctor prior to consumption
If you’re ready to ditch the small plates and learn how to fuel for your best performance, reach out to Lindsey at Lindsey.RiseUpNutrition@gmail.com, and be sure to check out her podcast!