Again, we look at regeneration as the ability to recover from a given session, training phase or season and then be ready to move on to the next (higher) level. We covered sleep and sleep-related strategies in Part Two, and we move on to the other main influence for Regeneration – Nutrition.
As with sleep, we try to keep things as simple as possible while remaining effective in regard to nutrition (including hydration). Eating right is simple – not easy. First and foremost we want to keep in mind that convenience leads to success (CLS). That means we need to plan ahead and prepare for the coming week by creating a list of basic foods; planning for meals appropriately; buying our food; preparing some or most of our food for the week; and packing our prepared foods/meals as conveniently as possible to have things ready to go for our sleep and/or wake rituals. The simplest way to do all of the above is to have a planning/preparing/packing day each week – what we call a weekly ritual. This all-in-one day allows the readiness and convenience of foods that you have planned for in your diet to be ready to go when you need them. This greatly increases the likelihood of sticking to your plan and getting the best regeneration nutrition bang-for-your-buck.
First and foremost all athletes should be eating as many colorful vegetables as they can at each meal, and eating colorful fruits less often but still daily. There are so many benefits to eating a wide variety of colorful vegetables that if we listed them all in an ad most people simply would not believe the hype… Fresh, mostly raw vegetables influence our basic health that much! Besides the many vitamins and minerals present, there is an astounding (and ever-growing as we find out more) list of co-nutrients, healthy bacteria, enzymes and phytonutrients in fresh vegetables and fruits. Most often we recommend fresh vegetables, and then in descending order: frozen, dried and canned – raw most often, cooked less often. There are color-coded vegetable and fruit charts if you are not coming up with many options, with a normal breakdown of green, white, red, yellow/orange, and blue/purple. Simple – eat a wide variety of colorful vegetables at each meal… not easy.
Next, we want to be sure to eat a complete protein at each meal. Complete proteins contain all of the required amino acids to effect optimal repair and recovery. We break down muscle tissue during hard/heavy training and complete proteins provide the necessary building blocks to help regeneration proceed after this training. One serving of a complete protein would equal any of the following foods about the size of your hand or your fist: eggs, meats, fish/seafood, and dairy. Try to include a serving of protein at each meal, and as with vegetables and fruits above, include variety as best you can.
Along with protein an important building block for optimal regeneration are healthy fats. We recommend including healthy fats daily, hopefully, some healthy fats with each meal. Healthy fats include coconut oil, olive oil, nuts and seeds, butter and cream. Healthy fats slow digestion, help control insulin levels, help rebuild and repair damaged tissues, as well as supply an important energy source. An effective nutrition plan can not overemphasize the inclusion of these fats on a regular basis.
Water is vital to not only athletic performance but to our lives. We recommend that athletes drink plain, clean water most often. There are instances when non-calorie drinks such as coffee and tea are OK as well, and again – for the most part, athletes should be drinking plain, clean water. A green drink (with vegetables, fruits, flax, coconut oil, etc) is a solid addition to a daily nutrition plan as well and could account for one of your daily meals. Besides the green drink just mentioned and the workout windows described below, almost all of your fluids should be calorie free – plain, clean water.
Workout windows describe the area on either side of or during training. This window of opportunity allows for protein, carbs, and fats to be used immediately not only for energy for training but also for immediate repair from training. We time this window from about 1.5 to 2 hours prior to training to 30 to 45 minutes post training. Before practice, we recommend a balance of clean carbs, proteins, and fats. During training we most often recommend plain, clean water – and should training last over an hour and/or be exceptionally hard we recommend some type of training drink (Gatorade, Accelerade, etc). Post-training we recommend some type of protein and carb combination to speed recovery and to avoid most fat and fiber at this time since these both slow digestion, and we want to get nutrients to our muscles as quickly as possible after training. An easy and popular post-workout drink is chocolate milk, and there are several others that provide a quick source of protein and carbs (Accelerade, Gatorade Recovery, etc). Experiment at practices to find out what works best to regularly help your performance (both training and recovery), and then use these same strategies for meets. Do not complicate things at meets – what works for hard practices will work for meets.
Some probably think that we have forgotten the most important of all macro-nutrients – carbohydrates. The above vegetables and fruits do contain some carbs, but vegetables especially tend not to have too many calories. Well, in our opinion additional carbs are a little over-hyped. Carbohydrates are fuel only – whereas protein is a mainly a major building block, and fats are both building blocks and a concentrated energy source. Additional carbs would be most grains (breads, rice, cereals), potatoes, corn, and sugar. In our view these additional carbohydrates should be looked at as activity-dependant, meaning you should eat as many carbs as needed to cover your training needs and no more. In high-volume, hard training phases this may be a lot of carbs, and conversely, during the off-season this would be not-so-many carbs. Individual experimentation should guide your efforts in finding what works best for your performance (as well as your waistline) in regard to additional carbohydrates.
There is no magic to eating for performance, just a simple set of guidelines to follow consistently. Make correlations as you can between performance and nutrition, as well as weight and performances (weight being guided mainly by nutrition). Temptation and inconvenience tend to be the biggest enemies of nutritional success, so follow the advice above and keep things as simple as possible with effective, convenient meal strategies that suit your tastes and lead you to improved performances and increased regeneration.