Here's the truth about nutrition for endurance athletes: getting it wrong will limit your performance... getting it right won't hold you back. What's the difference? Eating well won't make you a champion, but eating poorly will certainly prevent you from reaching your true potential.
If you stop to think about it, nutrition is the relatively easy part of our regimen when compared to all of the grueling hours we spend training. So why not maximize those daily calories by fueling your body with high performance foods? Last week, at the Food & Nutrition Conference 2015, nutrition professionals from around the world gathered to discuss all things food and nutrition.
Below, we've listed the 5 key trends coming out of this conference that we feel are important to the endurance athlete. They made our list because they're reported to do one or more of the following: increase performance, promote recovery, limit metabolic stressors, and improve weight management.
How strong is your pulse? Pulses are another name for legumes, which are a group of 12 crops that include dry beans, peas, chickpeas and lentils. The United Nations has declared 2016 the International Year of Pulses, and yes, this means the chickpea is the new chia!
Why: These highly nutritious, sustainably-grown crops are an affordable source of protein. Pulses have also been found to reduce risk of disease, including heart disease and many cancers. Fiber-rich beans also help keep you full, and they’re a great low fat source of protein – so they’re a valuable part of any athlete's nutrition plan.
Do this: Look for innovative new products made with legumes, including: black bean spaghetti, peanut butter made with golden peas, a meat alternative made with chickpeas and pecans, delicious baked goods made with lentil flour, crunchy snacks containing roasted chickpeas, and tasty bars made with pea protein.
Seeds of change. Seeds (hemp, chia, pumpkin, sunflower, pumpkin, flax, watermelon etc.) may be the new nuts! They're starting to show up in nutrition bars and other snacks, cereals, granola, salad mixes and more.
Why: Chia seeds have been popular for a while now and are a great source of fiber, protein and omega-3 fatty acids. Similarly, hemp seeds are also an excellent source of omega-3s, which is important for brain and heart health, in addition to anti-inflammatory properties. Hemp seeds are also one of the only plant-based proteins with all essential amino acids - making them a “complete” protein.
Do this: Sprinkle any (or all) of these seeds on things like salads, oatmeal, yogurt, soups, and smoothies. This will not only boost nutrition, but also add a little texture and crunch - and who doesn't like a little crunch?
Sprout your grains. What we think of as "grains"—rice, wheat, corn, oats, barley—are actually the mature seeds of cereal grasses. Just like any other seed, these seeds can germinate into young plants and start sprouting. Interesting new products finding their way on shelves contain sprouted lentils, mung beans, quinoa, and brown rice.
Why: Since a sprouted grain is lower in starch, it has higher proportions of other nutrients, such as protein, vitamins and minerals (especially iron and zinc) compared to un-sprouted grains. Some researchers claim that sprouted grains are higher in certain enzymes and may be easier to digest.
Do this: Next time you're at the supermarket, look for sprouted-grain products that have begun to take up residence in the cereal, pasta, bread, and snack aisles. These products boast that they improve digestion and nutrient absorption. If you feel bloated after meals of traditional grains, try something like Food for Life's Ezekiel 4:9 brand that promotes breads, pastas, and cereals made from sprouted wheat, spelt, barley, and lentils to see if it helps.
Go pro and pre (-biotic). Probiotics are beneficial bacteria made famous by yogurt and kefir. Prebiotics are the nourishment probiotics must consume to survive, grow and flourish. That's right, you have to feed your probiotics with prebiotics - who knew?
Why: Endurance athletes require an ample supply of beneficial probiotic bacteria to ensure the proper functioning of digestion, metabolism and immune systems. All of that exercise creates toxins and waste that must be eliminated and probiotic bacteria supercharges your ability to do so.
Do this: If you feel like you should be recovering faster after your longer workouts, start to introduce probiotics and prebiotics into your diet. Kefir and yogurt are traditional ways to add healthy probiotics into your system. If you're not a fan of these, try one of the new innovations such as "GoLive." They offer a flavored, water-based beverage that delivers probiotic bacteria at the time of consumption vs. time of manufacturing - making it highly effective.
Salad kits on-the-run. Prewashed and packaged salad mixes have been around for a while, but the concept of salad kits is relatively new. This allows you to eat your superfoods any time of day and effectively eliminates any excuse you may have used in the past to run out to McDonald's for lunch.
Why: Salad kits offer a time-efficient means of providing powerful nutrition in the time-starved life of a working endurance athlete. You shake the salad in the box that doubles as your serving bowl. Included packets typically feature plant-protein toppings such as a mixture of seeds, nuts, roasted edamame, dried corn and roasted soy nuts.
Do this: If you typically fall off the nutrition wagon because you don't/can't find the time to make your meals ahead of time, try one of these kits. Look for these kits in the salad aisle - there should be plenty. For example, Dole Foods has introduced an innovative product called "Take Aways" that combines chopped salad mix with a packet of whole grains and seeds, along with a vinaigrette dressing or salsa to drizzle on top.
That's it for this week's post. We hope you find this list useful as you're designing your nutrition plan for that upcoming race! If you have anything to add to this list or have comments on it, please don't hesitate to post them.
Keep on Running!
Julia, Patrick & Jo-Jo
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