Looking for the best performance foods or supplements to get the most out of your workouts? Don’t believe the get-fit quick claims on products marketed to athletes. The truth is, there are no nutritional short-cuts to make you leaner or fitter. A nutrient-rich whole foods diet is the foundation necessary to help you achieve optimal performance.
Here are the latest science-based guidelines that sports dietitians provide to athletes—from amateurs to world champions to help them be their best.
One of the most important factors for optimal performance is proper hydration. Here are general recommendations for keeping hydrated:
- Two hours before activity, drink 2 cups of fluids.
- During exercise, drink 5 ounces of fluid every 15-20 minutes.
- After exercise, drink 2 to 3 cups of fluid for every pound of body weight lost during activity. Weigh yourself before and after a workout to find out how much water weight you usually lose.
Water is an ideal go-to beverage for before, during and after exercise. For an added bonus, pump it up with antioxidants by adding sliced citrus and fresh mint to water.
Also fruit with a high water content – like watermelon and grapes – are perfect both pre- and post-workout. One of my top post-workout snacks features watermelon. Watermelon is 92% water so it’s perfect for rehydrating! What’s more, research shows that watermelon can be your best friend when it comes to sore-muscle relief, thanks to an amino acid found in this tasty fruit called l-Citrulline. Enjoy this all-time favorite Watermelon and Kiwi Smoothie.
For recovery, there’s another beverage you might not have considered—100% pomegranate juice. Pomegranate juice may promote strength recovery post-exercise due to its unique polyphenols. In fact, one published study revealed that those who drank pomegranate juice maintained more of their post-exercise strength when compared to a placebo group who did not drink pomegranate juice. More research is needed, but what we do know now is that pomegranate juice is also a good source of the electrolyte potassium, which is essential to maintain fluid balance and muscle function. Enjoy on its own, add it to your favorite smoothie or smoothie bowl, or mix 1 part POM Wonderful 100% Pomegranate Juice and 1 part seltzer water with a splash of lime for a refreshing bubbly treat.
Sports dietitians focus on the timing and quantity of carb-rich foods (including fruit, starchy vegetables and grain-based foods) both before and after exercise to boost physical performance and recovery. Wheat-based staples like pasta, bread, tortillas and cereals provide quality carbs that serve as the primary and preferred fuel for your muscles and brain.
Olympic gold medalist in slalom, Mikaela Shiffrin eats a carb-rich diet to achieve peak performance. “Pasta is my go-to dish for carbs because it’s the type of carbohydrate I enjoy the most. I usually have Spaghetti Bolognese or pasta with fresh veggies and chicken the night before a big race,” says Shiffrin.
For light exercise or training lasting less than an hour, about 1 gram of carbohydrate per pound of body weight is recommended. For longer duration and higher intensity endurance exercise (like marathon training), aim for a daily intake of about about 2-3 grams of carbohydrate per pound.
Carbohydrate-Rich Meal and Snack Ideas:
Greek Yogurt Parfait – For the perfect blend of carbs and protein, top 3 ounces nonfat plain Greek yogurt with ½ cup whole grain cereal and ½ cup fresh, whole strawberries. The protein in Greek yogurt will sustain you through your workout, while the cereal and strawberries contribute carbohydrates for a quick source of energy.
Chicken with Pasta and Veggies - Pasta has a long history of being a preferred pre- and post-workout choice among athletes. It’s also tops among sports dietitians because it’s high in complex carbs, contains protein, has a low glycemic index and partners well with so many other nutrient-rich foods, from veggies to meat and seafood. For more protein, look for a pasta with additional high-quality protein like Barilla Protein Plus, which is made with ingredients like egg whites, chickpeas and lentils packs in 10g protein per serving. Add lean chicken breast, olive oil, garlic, tomato and mozzarella, and you have a well-balanced, nutritious meal.
Protein is key to building and repairing muscle and needs vary widely, depending your age, gender, and type and intensity of your training. About 10 to 35 percent of your total daily calories should come from protein sources such as lean meat, poultry, and fish. And don’t forget non-meat protein. Shiffrin incorporates plant-based proteins into everyday meals. “Peas, lentils, chickpeas and beans are a key component of my diet as they’re high in fiber and protein and give me steady energy.”
For light to moderate exercise, .37g of protein per pound of body weight is adequate for most adults. For strength-oriented sports or intense training, like CrossFit or body building, .55g to .8g per pound may be needed to achieve your strength goals.
Protein-Rich Meal and Snack Ideas:
Tuna on Whole Wheat Toast – If you’re a sandwich lover, this is for you! Adding two ounces of water-packed tuna (season with a drizzle of little lemon juice and a pinch of salt and pepper) over two slices of whole-grain toast gives you an ideal protein-and-carb mini-meal with 30 g carbohydrates, 14 g protein, 2 g fat, and 250 calories.
Turkey and Cheese with Apple Slices – If you’re not in the mood for a sandwich, skip the bread and just enjoy the fillings! Spread 1 soft-cheese wedge over two or three slices of lean deli turkey ( about 2 ounces ) and roll them up for a quick, protein-packed snack. Top this off with crisp apple slices (8 ounces) for some energy-boosting (and glycogen-replenishing) carbs to complete the perfect no-frills, post-workout snack.