Eating for Health AND Performance?!?

When embarking on a training program, you want to balance ‘performance eating’ with ‘healthy eating.’ My goal is to clear up some of the confusion regarding sugar, carbohydrates, and overall eating strategies so you can not only perform well but maintain good nutrition habits and maximize your health.

There is a lot of information available about nutrition (some credible, some complete BS). It is easy to get overwhelmed by the seemingly conflicting stories, advertisements, articles, and testimonials. You end up not knowing what to eat and when to eat it.

I feel that it is my duty as an expert in this field (Master’s degree, Doctorate degree, 20 years of coaching/consulting) to give YOU the best information possible so you can make the best, most informed decision regarding nutrition.

There are so many aspects of nutrition:  weight loss, weight gain, improved body composition, eating for health, eating for performance, nutrient timing… the list goes on…

?For performance, fueling is the key. You have to stay fueled to perform at a high level for a long time. With this perspective, carbs rule! You gotta know HOW and WHEN to eat carbohydrates to maximize endurance performance.  But, when it comes to healthy eating, knowing what types of carbs to eat and WHEN to eat them is also very important.

For this week, as I introduce the ‘big picture’ concepts, I want to start off by simply stating four of the MOST IMPORTANT points regarding nutrition that will get the conversation going:

1) Weight loss is achieved by creating a caloric deficit (calories expended > calories ingested), while weight gain is achieved by creating a caloric surplus. Of course, the activity you do while creating either a deficit or a surplus result in body composition changes.

2) Calories are NOT created equally. There are three calorie sources:  Carbohydrate, Protein, and Fat. These three macronutrients are metabolized (broken down) differently in the body; one calorie from a carbohydrate (like simple sugar) is metabolized differently than one calorie from protein, which is metabolized differently than one calorie from fat..

3) There are specific guidelines to ‘healthy’ eating, which are DIFFERENT from ‘performance’ eating.

4) Everyone is unique, and what works for one person may not work for another.
Once you understand these four points, you can begin to understand the importance of nutrition in health, wellness, and performance.

If you feel that you have a grasp of the four points above, read on…

The interplay between carbohydrate, protein, and fat is important for optimal nutrition for health and performance.
There are 3 macronutrients that provide calories: Carbohydrate, Protein, and Fat. Alcohol also provides calories and is it’s own category. Vitamins and minerals are also their own category but don’t provide calories, however they are essential to keeping the body systems functioning.

Now.. specifically addressing the 3 macronutrients:

PROTEIN: We HAVE to eat some proteins to stay alive; Proteins are made of amino acids. There are 20 amino acids. Of these 20 amino acids, 9 cannot be made by our body (we have to eat them)… these are called Essential Amino Acids or EAAs. The EAAs include: Histidine, Isoleucine, Leucine, Methionine, Phenylalanine, Threonine, Tryptophan, Valine, and Lysine. A subcategory of these EAAs are Branch Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs)… these are Leucine, Isoleucine, and Valine. The “Big Dog” of all of these in terms of muscle health is…. Leucine.

FAT: We HAVE to eat some fat to stay alive. Fats are broken down into fatty acids. There are many kinds of fatty acids, but there are some that our body cannot make on its own. These are called essential fatty acids or EFAs. The primary essential fatty acids are: alpha-linolenic acid (an omega-3 fatty acid) and linoleic acid (an omega-6 fatty acid).

CARBOHYDRATE: We DO NOT have to eat carbohydrate to stay alive. We do however need carbohydrate (specifically glucose) to stay alive (our brain and red blood cells depend on the presence of some glucose).  BUT unlike essential amino acids and essential fatty acids, our body has mechanisms by which we can synthesize glucose in a carb-deprived state. We also have mechanisms by which fat can be turned into a great substitute for glucose.  In other words… there is no such thing as an ‘essential carb.

These points above are VERY IMPORTANT tools to have as you filter out good nutrition information from garbage nutrition information. These points also serve as a starting point to begin to understand the fundamentals of how to eat to improve health and performance.

So here lies the conundrum. If we have to eat fat and protein to survive, and we don’t HAVE TO eat carbohydrates to be healthy (and it may be unhealthy to eat too many carbohydrates), how do we incorporate carbohydrates into our diet so we can maximize our training and racing potential?  More on that next week.