Optimal performance is all about recovery. Recovery is a much larger piece than killing it in your workout. Recovery is THE way to get better, perform better, and live better. Proper nutrition plays a big role in your recovery, allows you to build muscle and enhances your performance making you stronger and faster.
In Fuel 101 we discussed foundational nutrition for your best health, weight loss, and improving insulin sensitivity. You can get that information here. Once you have your solid base of paleo eating, depending on your activity level and goals, you might want to enhance your paleo diet. Enhance how, you ask, well, just as we discussed in Fuel 101, you are an experiment of one and that is no different in how you recover best to ready yourself for the next bout. Inflammation is the key indicator if the tweaks you are experimenting with are yielding the desired results for you. If you try something and start to feel sluggish, puffy, congested, or any other fallouts, remove that stimulant and try something different.
Experiment of One
The first way we’ll examine to enhance your performance is by experimenting with what you are eating. The paleo diet works well for weight loss and improving insulin sensitivity but sometimes when working out at high intensities one will need to add to the paleo base with additional foods for energy while working out. Sort of a “Paleo Plus” for performance. If you experience an energy lull, it is time to start tinkering with carbohydrates. Sweet potatoes are a go-to carbohydrate that are 100% paleo and loaded with vitamins, but, what to do if you have exhausted the ways to cook sweet potatoes? Time to look at grains. Rice would be the least offensive for most people as far as grains go, it’s gluten free and organic is readily available. After rice, look to steel cut oats as another whole food or non-GMO corn for added energy. Wheat would be at the bottom of the list as it is still problematic containing gluten. Test each of these individually. Rice might be great for you but corn doesn’t give the added energy you were looking for. Remember why you are adding these grains to your diet in the first place. You are looking for added energy so if eating wheat bread or flour tortillas makes you feel sluggish, that would be a double negative and obviously something to eliminate. ALWAYS ask yourself, how does this make me feel? How do I perform when eating these things?
The next area to tweak would be diary. It’s worth noting that when you are experimenting with what foods work best to enhance your performance, the same rules apply to your body as in the lab: one variable at a time. Keep your diet very strict paleo and experiment with one tweak, a grain or diary, at a time for the truest results. With diary, choose either fermented diary like yogurt or as close to straight from the cow as possible like raw milk. Raw milk and cheese are great for adding bulk which we will go in to more depth in Tank Fuel. Critical questions to ask yourself when experimenting with diary: Do I feel sluggish? Is there an increase in congestion or mucus production? Do I feel bloated? Ask yourself these questions both right after you eat diary and after eating diary a few times a week. Remember that an ideal testing of each variable is two weeks. Take two whole weeks and dedicate those weeks to testing and retesting one specific nutritional tweak.
When examining your performance, be diligent to insure you are getting enough protein. When you lift weights you are tearing your muscles, you must repair that muscle tearing with the protein (specifically the amino acid building blocks) found in meat. Meat is the hands down best source of protein especially for rebuilding muscles. It is in the recovery, the rebuilding of the muscle tissue, that muscle growth and strength gains are made. If you are working out with any intensity at all you need protein. You need protein at every meal and you cannot get enough protein from protein shakes. I will say it again, meat, good quality meat, is the best source of protein, your basic building block of life.
Also, make sure you are getting enough good quality fat like that found in avocados, almonds, walnuts, olive oil, macadamia nuts, coconut milk and coconut oil. Coconut oil is great for cooking and olive oil is really nice for salad dressing. Fat is critical to your body absorbing the vitamins and minerals found in your food. As detailed in Fuel 101, tracking your daily fat intake via My Fitness Pal, or My Fit Day should show roughly a 40-50% daily fat intake (including fat found in meat).
After nutrition, supplements are the biggest aid in achieving optimal performance and reaching your goals. First and foremost, SLEEP is the least expensive yet most effective supplement and tool for recovery. It is worth taking measures to get the best night sleep you can, every night. Read more about sleep and it’s dramatic effects here. While we are talking basics, hydration is also critical to performance and overall health. At a minimum, make sure you are taking in half your body weight in ounces of water daily. More if it’s really hot and or the workout is really intense.
If you are looking to boost performance, start with a basic cup of coffee which contains between 20-50mg of caffeine depending on the type of coffee. Caffeine stimulates the body and is useful in producing energy. The caffeine found in coffee and tea is a safe, natural way to wake up your body, mainly because of the limited number of ingredients in coffee. Transversely, energy drinks are a bad idea because many energy drinks contain an unsafe amount of caffeine and can be loaded with artificial ingredients. Anytime you take a supplement, be it caffeine or otherwise, you want to know why you are taking it and how it helps you reach your goals. You never want to take a supplement because someone trying to sell you something said you should or simply because it’s part of the starter package. The best time to employ caffeine is before your workout for energy, however, as with any stimulant, if you use it everyday, the effects will get blunted so it is a good idea to save your caffeine for PRs and race days to receive optimum benefits.
Pills, Powders and Potions
Another recommended supplement would be Branch Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs) which build skeletal muscle. Look for one that is free of artificial sweeteners, which are like pumping your body full of chemicals and most brands have, and look for one that provides 5,000mg per dose. GNC BCAA is a good one, the ingredients read: amino acids and it has the recommended dosage. Another good one is NutraForce Natural Amino and I actually prefer the taste of this one on it’s own, the GNC I use for after workout in a recovery shake and that makes it more palatable. 5,000mg of BCAA before every workout is recommended and 5,000mg after a workout but only on a heavy lifting day and that can be added to a recovery shake.
Which brings us to recovery shakes. If using a recovery shake, make sure you get it in 30-60 minutes post workout. Top things to avoid in recovery shakes: antibiotics, soy lectin, artificial flavors, and artificial sweeteners. I like Stronger Faster Healthier (SFH) Recovery shake which is a whey based shake and I do well on diary, if you test it and don’t do well on whey or diary, don’t use a whey based shake. The main thing you want to look for in your recovery shake is 30-40g of protein so that your muscles can take that in right when they are so depleted so they can use that protein for muscle building immediately. Again, if it has been a heavy lifting day, add 5,000mg of BCAA to your recovery shake for added aid in muscle reparation and recovery.
Creatine produces energy and gives the phosphates back to the ATP system in you mitochondria which are the powerhouse (energy producer) of each of your body’s cells. You want to use it to produce force in short, intense bouts of work. Mix it with your recovery shake. You don’t want to use it all of the time. I cycle on and off of it. You only want to take 5-10g of it at a time and make sure you stay very hydrated while taking it and check yourself constantly for signs of dehydration like stomach cramps, headaches, diarrhea, vomiting and the like. If any of these symptoms appear, immediately stop taking creatine.
SFH also makes a product called Fuel which is a before workout drink that also contains apple pectin for carbohydrate energy and coconut for fat energy which is great for long workout days or marathons.
As far as electrolytes go, mostly, they are not needed if your diet is solid and you are taking in enough water regularly, but there are those marathon or longer workout days where you need the energy boost, EFS is a good brand free of artificial ingredients. nergy boosting effects.
Electrolytes, protein, creatine, BCAAs, caffeine, water, and sleep are all building blocks, if you need a little extra help recovering, look to zinc and magnesium. ZMA is a great tool for recovery. I recommend Now Foods ZMA. 300mg of magnesium at night helps calm the nervous system and speed recovery. Epsom salt baths are a great way to absorb magnesium through the body and also help calm and recover. Calcium helps fire muscles and aid in recovery as well. While we’re on these extras, it’s not a bad idea to have your vitamin D levels tested. Many people are deficient in vitamin D which is critical in calcium utilization for muscle firing. A blood test can help you see where you are lacking and how to make up for those gaps.
A big tool in enhancing your performance is timing. If you are doing a primarily cardio workout, an empty stomach is best. Either first thing in the morning or several hours after eating. If working out in the morning, fasted, having fueled well the night before is great. If working out later in the day, just make sure you have adequate time between your meal and your workout to digest your food properly. After your workout, no matter when you workout, take in a protein shake (30-60 minutes after) and a meal that is higher in protein and carbohydrates and lower in fat so that the fat doesn’t slow the muscle’s absorption of the protein it so desperately needs. Think straight protein to a depleted muscle, nothing else getting in it’s way at that time.
If you have a special event coming up, like a long bike ride or run or a special race, make certain to test all drinks, supplements, and the like well before the special event so you know how your body is going to react. You don’t want any surprises day of.
Tweak your paleo eating as needed to perform at your top condition. Experiment with how many meals and how much you need to eat. Eat to support activity level, no more. However, as you are figuring out what is best for you, if you are hungry, eat, start by adding in those healthy fats. Snack as you need to, choosing quality, whole, life giving foods. As always, adhere to the adage, buy food that spoils and eat it before it does. With a little bit of time and patience you will land on the eating plan and additions that support your goals the best and allow you to perform at your peak.