Food For Fuel (And For Thought)

In this and any other fitness column, food’s a hot topic and for good reason. Food and nutrition are tricky subject for anyone but especially athletes. Food is fuel but it isn’t as simple as filling up a gas tank. You have to take care to find the fuel you need for the job you want to perform and to time it right.

In the three years I’ve been writing my column, I’ve returned to the topic of food again and again. This week, I was thinking about the central role food plays in fitness and my writing for BTRtoday. I’ve explored the relationship between athletes and eating in little ways so often. I thought it was time to step back and look at the big picture.

When athletes are in motion, they rely on the quick and ready energy from their bodies’ store of the chemical glycogen. Our body can hold around 90 minutes worth of glycogen. When you run out of glycogen, morale bottoms out and you feel like you’re wearing ankle weights—an unfortunate condition known to runners everywhere as the bonk.

If you’re racing 90 minutes or longer you’ll need more calories to make it to the finish line. To play it safe, I recommend taking in a couple hundred calories for any race over an hour.

Many female athletes don’t eat as much as they need. And many skimp on carbs in particular, which is a huge mistake. When women slash carbs, our bodies produce cortisol, a hormone alerting our body we need to store fat to survive. Without carbs, women can’t perform. After seeing my boyfriend’s success with a low carb diet, I cut carbs myself. It was a disastrous and colossal mistake. Instead of feeling full of energy as claimed by my partner, I was fatigued, running slower and feeling worse.

And if you need carbs, there’s no better time than the morning. I’m a sucker for a good breakfast and I’m not ashamed. Eggs Benedict please, with a side of French toast. Real maple syrup. Second breakfast? Why not? I’ll take a cinnamon roll and a fried egg with my third cup of coffee. My addiction to breakfast foods runs deep. I’m even known to keep a little breakfast chocolate in my purse. You know, just in case.

Research has consistently indicated that eating breakfast correlates with being leaner and healthier. Skip it and you derail plans to eat healthy for the rest of the day. And while some recent studies cast doubt on how much athletes need breakfast to perform, I remain a true breakfast believer.

Serious athletes always want to get the upper hand in training. Keeping the engine revving with quality fuel is part of that. But even the healthiest diet can benefit from a little extra nutritional juice (AKA supplementation). Of course, supplements aren’t a magic bullet. You can’t achieve your personal best or overcome an injury by just taking a pill. However, when used properly, supplements can help keep you healthy and strong. Here, I recommend a few supplements that help athletes with overall health and performance.

When you’re fighting fatigue, you need to back off your training. But that’s not the only way to break the symptoms. The recovery process is impacted just as much by eating habits. Luckily, there are simple but effective nutrition tweaks you can make to help dig out of the overtraining hole.