Physical activity is as important to our well-being as is proper nutrition. Regardless of whether you are a weekend warrior, workout several times a week, or participate in a specific competitive sport, it is important to understand the role that proper nutrition plays in performance. The casual gym goer will see better results from understanding what his/her body needs for fuel, just as much as a world class Ironman will. There is more to sports performance and nutrition than just the numbers on a nutrition label; there is a mental aspect as well. Some athletes would argue the mental side of feeding yourself correctly is as important, and sometimes weighted more heavily than the food they eat.
Carbohydrates and Their Role in Fueling Your Body
It is well known that carbohydrates are the source of the stored energy that the body uses when engaging in rigorous activity. For many endurance athletes, pre-activity consumption (and mid-activity refueling) focus on the intake of carb-heavy foods. The human body takes in carbohydrates and converts it to glycogen stores in your muscles. These are sugars to be used on demand when the muscle use calls for more energy. Pastas, breads, potatoes and refined sugar are very carbohydrate dense foods – but beware - there are good and bad carbohydrates. The quality of the carbohydrate directly correlates to how your body processes and stores the carbs, as well as the effect on your glycemic index levels in the blood. Sugar (high glycemic index) would be considered inefficient carbohydrate intake and would only provide a very short burst of energy followed by a quick and significant decrease in performance. A less extreme example would be the plain russet potato, considered a simple carbohydrate, it will effectively increase your blood sugar levels and not provide the same level of energy as its cousin, the complex carbohydrate sweet potato. Sweet potatoes take longer for your body to break down and convert to glycogen stores, and will keep your glycemic index stable. Each has it’s place in sports performance, with different needs for pre-, during-, and post-activity refueling. Finally, the value of a bread or pasta choice as a carbohydrate source for athletic performance would depend on the degree of processing that went into creating the particular bread or pasta chosen.
The Standard Ketogenic Diet and Fat Burning Methodology
There are recent trends that have been focusing on burning fat instead of carbohydrates for exercise. The foundation for this idea is called Ketosis. Ketosis is a state that your body will reach when you take in very few carbohydrates, switching the metabolism to start burning fat reserves as opposed to glycogen reserves that would’ve resulted from carbohydrate intake. In order to maintain a state of ketosis, a strict diet of fat intake in combination with very low carbohydrate intake is mandatory. The focus on this “diet” is the intake of animal proteins, oils, avocados and low carb vegetables. There are risks to this “diet” in that the individual may not get some of the necessary micronutrients in the nutrient-dense higher carb foods they’ve eliminated from their diet. Likewise, there are those that take in a dangerously high amount of cholesterol by eating a diet heavy in animal products.
Mental Performance Management
For most athletes, how an individual feels dictates how one will perform in a physical activity on any given day. One large contributor to how an athlete feels is following a regimen that (s)he has developed confidence in for “game day.” If the athlete feels at ease once (s)he has eaten a bowl of oatmeal with honey and banana, the mind will not worry about nutrition failing them during the activity, and will be able to focus attention on the challenge ahead. The same applies if the pre-activity meal is a bowl of cereal and a cup of orange juice; routine helps calm the nerves. The difference in these two examples is that mental ease will only carry one so far in the body’s ability to perform physical activity. That said, there are many published examples of professional athletes who were confident that their diet regimen was right for their activity . . . and when their performance was no longer what they expected, they took another look and changed their diet, and with it came significantly improved performance!! No doubt, mental strength is a huge component of performing to the best of one’s abilities, but it is not everything! The body needs the energy and focus to back it up.
If you think you have always been eating the way you should to be effective at any level of activity, it takes a lot of courage to acknowledge that a change of diet may be the answer to get you to the next level. It is important to educate yourself as to how your diet is impacting your performance and approach change intelligently.
At Read The Ingredients, we do not believe in following a “diet.” We do believe in eating well and eating the right way, with a balance of all of the important macro- and micro-nutrients that help your body stay healthy and clean of health-inhibitors. As such, we do not promote following a Keto diet, or any other “diet” (usually prescribed to lose weight), nor do our products comply with any such diet. We simply include the information to educate how nutrition affects us. Our products are all 100% whole food (soon to be ALL plant-based) ingredients. No sugars, sugar-substitutes, or preservatives added!!