Nutrition tips for maximizing your performance on and off the water
Do your food and drink choices leave you feeling energized throughout the day or are your energy levels up and down like a rollercoaster? Do you begin your paddling training or competition feeling energized? Do you finish your paddling training or competition energized and strong? The key is balanced fueling to nourish and energize your body to do its daily tasks and perform its best. To increase energy and improve performance, make your meals and snacks well-balanced and nutrient dense. Well balanced means carbohydrates, lean protein, and healthy fat in every meal and snack. Nutrient dense foods are foods in their most natural form with minimal to no processing. These foods are packed with energy, or calories, along with nutrients; carbs, protein, fat, vitamins, and minerals.
Yes I am telling you to eat carbohydrates (carbs)! Carbs get such a bad rap, but they are the body’s preferred fuel source because they are easy to break down and use. Carbs are also the brain’s exclusive fuel source. Have you ever noticed that when you get tired it is in your head first before you feel tired in your body? Carbs are vegetables, fruits, and starches. Starches are excellent fuel for athletes. Starches include root vegetables like potatoes and sweet potatoes and grains like brown rice, quinoa, and oatmeal. Vegetables and fruits are lower in carbs than starches and are loaded with fiber.
Sport nutrition products like bars, chews, gels, and energy drinks all have a place for paddling athletes. These sport nutrition products are carbs, processed to fuel your body quickly. Use these products in your training and competition regimen (look for sport nutrition recommendations for paddling in my next article). As soon as is practical, eat foods in their most natural form to help you fuel and recover. Plant based meals and snacks are rich in antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties to help you recover faster and perform better.
Most athletes are so focused on cutting carbs in the quest to get leaner that they eat more protein than needed. Protein is necessary to build and repair muscle; however, it is not the body’s main fuel source. The body does not store protein like it stores carbs and fat; thus, any excess protein you eat is converted to fatty acids and stored as fat. If you eat animal products for protein, choose organic, grass-fed, free-range products whenever possible. Fat is a high energy source. It keeps you satiated and is essential for vitamin A, D, E and K transport and absorption. Fat is also in animal products (meat, poultry, fish, and dairy). Choose reduced fat options when consuming animal products.
To balance your fueling, eat starch, vegetables, fruit, lean protein, and healthy fat in your meals and snacks. This is the balance you need for steady and consistent energy release to optimize your health and performance. Eat about every three to four hours to maintain your energy level, to stay alert, and to help ease digestion. Below are examples of each food group along with serving sizes.
Balanced Nutrition Examples
Starch: whole grains (brown rice, barley, quinoa), pasta, potatoes, whole grain breads, cereals, baked goods
– One serving is fist size
Vegetables: kale, spinach, broccoli, zucchini, bell peppers, tomatoes, bok choy, celery, cucumbers, squash
– One serving is ¾ of your plate
Fruit: blueberries, blackberries, apples, oranges, strawberries, bananas, melon, kiwi, raspberries, grapes, etc.
– One serving is fist size
Protein: animal sources of protein include beef, pork, lamb, poultry, fish, dairy.
– One serving is the size of your palm
Protein: plant sources of protein are legumes like lentils, beans, soy/tofu, nuts and seeds.
– One serving is the size of your hand
Fat: olive oil, olives, coconut oil, avocados, almonds, walnuts, nut butters, and seeds.
– One serving is the size of a golf ball
Based on these serving sizes, here is how your meal plate would look:
¾ plate vegetables, starch the size of your palm, protein size of palm, and a drizzle of fat.