I think I can safely speak for all of New England and Pats Nation that when we saw Jermaine Kearse make that unbelievable bouncing catch last night, our hearts sank. We watched as the time clock quickly whittled down to 30 seconds, with the Seahawks poised to dazzle with another feat of Russell Wilson last-second heroics. But with 20 seconds on the clock, setting up on the ½ yard line, the Seahawks decided to throw. And that decision changed EVERYTHING.
The rest, as we know, is history. Rookie Malcolm Butler makes the game-changing interception in the end zone and the Patriots are Super Bowl XLIX Champions. Thanks to the monotony of “Deflategate”, I have become distinctly aware that outside of New England, the rest of the country is not super fond of our beloved Patriots. But guess what?! I do NOT care. Tom Brady is the greatest quarterback of all time, the Pats ABSOLUTELY deserved this win, and another Duck Boat parade will be gracing the streets of Boston tomorrow. We’re all still on such a high from this win that we aren’t even bothered by the fact that Mother Nature is currently dumping another foot of snow on us. Thank you for that, by the way.
So as I sit in my kitchen, snowed in for the second Monday in a row, I’m contemplating how nutrition and sport performance are so closely related. I’ve met one of the chefs for the Patriots down at Gillette Stadium, and contrary to popular belief, football players don’t just stuff their faces with anything in sight. Sports nutrition is a calculated science; and thanks to research and technology, we are able to identify how foods interact in the body to make you stronger and faster.
Now I realize I may not be speaking to a room full of professional athletes here (actually, chances of that are well beyond “slim”), but you can use sports nutrition principles to your advantage regardless of your sport level. I am literally the least sports-talented individual in the Boston area (with the exception of dance, and I’ll leave you all to debate whether that’s a sport or not). But I still apply sports nutrition tactics to my daily routines and workouts. Like anything nutrition-related, this is not a one-size-fits-all kinda thing. But here are some general recommendations for fueling your body for whatever level of sport performance you fit into:
The optimal meal or snack before exercise includes a balance of carbohydrates and protein. The carbs are quickly digested to provide energy for your workout, while protein helps to build and repair muscle tissue. Exercising on an empty stomach is, to use the technical term, a “no-no”. Eat a meal or snack low in fiber and fat to keep your digestive system from acting up during exercise, and know that some people just don’t feel great if they eat a big meal before working out. That’s ok. Just take these pre-workout snacks and adapt them to fit your preferences and workout style (spoiler alert: protein powder does NOT make the list):
- Peanut butter and jelly or honey sandwich + fruit (grapes, apple, banana, etc.)
- Greek yogurt + strawberries + granola
- Raisins + almonds + granola bar
- Cheese + crackers + grapes
- Oatmeal made with milk + brown sugar + blueberries
Depending on the type of workout you typically do, you may not have a need for a during-exercise snack. But for anyone training for a marathon or other endurance event, this one is for you. Your body uses up its fuel sources in a specific and methodical way. Despite the fact that we tend to equate protein with muscle power, carbohydrates and fat are really the only energy sources used during exercise. For exercise of moderate intensity and long duration, fat is the preferred source. We have a lot of it in storage, and can use it for a long time. Carbs come into play for high intensity and quick duration exercise. Carbs can be converted to energy faster, but we don’t have the stores of carbs like we do fat. With that said, your during-exercise foods are going to replace fluid and electrolytes, as well as give your body more carbs to run on:
- Sports drinks (opt for the lower sugar options)
- Sports gels or bars
- Dry cereal
When you exercise, you break down muscle fibers. When you recover post-exercise, those muscle fibers work to repair themselves. So if you give muscles extra fuel to aid the repair process, they recover quicker, stronger, and bigger than before. You want to take advantage of the 15-60 minute recovery window your body has, and once again go for a snack that contains both carbs and protein. Even if you don’t feel hungry, try a small snack and drink lots of fluids to replace what you’ve lost. No need to reinvent the wheel; all of the “Before Exercise” suggestions apply here as well.
The last – and likely most important – broad topic to cover in sports nutrition is replenishing fluids. If you’re going out to run for hours at a time, a helpful trick is to weigh yourself both pre- and post-run. Then for every pound you’ve lost, drink 16 ounces of water. If your workouts may not show a big difference in weight off the bat, just think about drinking at least one bottle of water or a low-sugar sports drink that contains electrolytes.
Now once again, my disclaimer is that these suggestions do not apply to everyone. We all exercise at different levels of intensity and duration. So don’t think that your 1-mile walk around the block each day doesn’t make you “eligible” for these recommendations. They absolutely do apply to any kind of physical activity, with the goal of giving you more overall energy. You could be an ocean surfer or couch surfer, bike rider or horseback rider, marathon runner or kids-to-school runner – everyone is an athlete in his own way, so fuel your body accordingly. Oh yeah, and GO PATS SUPER BOWL XLIX CHAMPS!!!