by Francesca Orlando, Nutritional Therapist
As a nutritional therapist with a passion for sports and sports nutrition, I like to share my experience working with athletes. Whether you are an Olympian, or a weekend warrior, I am going to give you a few ideas on pre and post-race nutrition, race fueling, “energy snacks and drinks”, and some supplements necessary to support joint and ligaments during the long months of athletic preparation.
There is no one size-fits-all in nutrition. Daily nutritional needs vary according to gender, weight, climate (temperature and humidity), type of training, lifestyle, work, stress, and, of course, genetic makeup (hereditary traits, genes, etc.). My perspective is very different from the conventional, old school, carbo-load philosophy. Carbo-loading has really been blown out of proportion. In my ideal world, athletes would follow a “modified” primal-type diet, with about 200 grams of carb on training days, and as much as 300-500 grams of carbs the day before and the day of the event. Some people need as much as 600-800 grams of carbohydrates the day before and the day of. The carbohydrate portion of the diet should come from leafy green vegetables, some fruit, starchy vegetables (yams, sweet potatoes, squashes), and, if tolerated, I usually allow some quinoa or sprouted rice (no glutinous grains).
Serbian tennis star Novak Djokovic was diagnosed with celiac disease a couple of years ago. After starting a gluten free diet, his game had completely changed, and in just a few months he had climbed the world ranking and had become the number one tennis player in the world. He is still number one and just won the Australian Open for the third year in a row.
Thanks to him and other famous “gluten-free” and “primal” athletes, I have no difficulty getting my athletes off gluten and other “whites.”
Usually, the first immediate results athletes see after eliminating gluten (and grains in general) and other “white” stuff, are:
– Quickest post-training and post-competition recovery
– Reduced injuries
– Faster recovery from injury
– Better performance in general
This is because grain intake is linked to inflammation, AGEs (advanced glycation end products), impaired immune function, oxidative stress, etc.
By switching the carbohydrate sources from grains to root vegetables (eaten with plenty of butter or other healthy fats) they are still providing their muscles with the glycogen stores necessary to perform, while eliminating the abovementioned issues.
On a regular diet an athlete may eat foods that are ideally all organic, grass-fed, free-range, raw or (for dairy products) cultured. A typical menu for the day would look something like this:
Breakfast: a 3 or 4-egg omelet with chopped vegetables; or 3 eggs with bacon; bone broth.
Snack: leftover chicken with skin on; or apple with sprouted nuts; 2 glasses of raw milk.
Lunch: lots of leafy green vegetables; broiled salmon; baked sweet potato with plenty of butter or cultured sour cream.
Snack: 2 T of coconut oil; yogurt with blueberries; or 2-4 oz of raw cheese with celery sticks.
Dinner: organic rotisserie chicken; steamed beets; 5-color salad. NY steak; roasted Brussel sprouts; sauerkraut. Bone broth.
Race day diet
On a pre-race day I will have the client add more starches: 2 sweet potatoes instead of 1; or ½ to 1 ½ cup of sprouted rice (remember that this will vary according on gender, weight, training, and type of sport practiced), or more fruit.
On the day of the race I recommend a light, easy to digest breakfast. For example:
– 2-3 of soft-boiled eggs; half an avocado. Bone broth.
– Leftover chicken or steak; ½ yam with plenty of butter.
If you prefer to “drink” your pre-event meal, I recommend a shake made with a whey product such as Solid Muscle or Primal Fuel , a handful of blueberries, 1-2 T coconut oil, and/or nut butter.
As you can see above, I recommend bone broth and sulphur-rich foods to provide the body with minerals, collagen, and other precious nutrients necessary to heal and repair tissues, and to bring super nutrition in food form.
Never wait too long for the post-workout meal. You should have a snack (or a meal, depending on the type of training/event) within 30 to 45 minutes from completing a workout or a race. Eat plenty of protein to rebuild and repair, healthy fats and some carbs to replenish glycogen stores. Here’s some of my favorites:
– Veggies (celery stick, carrot sticks, etc) bring in necessary minerals that help prevent muscle cramps; sweet potatoes. Canned pumpkin.
– Nuts and nut butters work really well (you can get convenient single portion nut butters from Artisana);
– Organic baby food;
– Eggs; canned mackerels, sardines, salmon;
– Plenty of bone broth.
Hydration is extremely important to transport nutrients, remove waste, and speed the healing process, to regulate body temperature, provide minerals, etc.:
– Mineral-rich water;
– Coconut water;
– Water with 1 T of honey (usually necessary only during marathons, triathlons, bike races)
Quick snacks for workout and race days
While I always prefer real food to bars, I understand that it can be difficult to peel an egg while running or biking. For a quick snack I recommend:
– Jen Bars
– Organic Food Bar
– Homemade bars (Elana Amsterdam and Nora Gedgaudas have great recipes)
– Jerky, nuts and some dried fruits work well for bikers (less easy for runners to carry)
– Coconut oil in individual packets (Artisana).
Important supplements to consider
In addition to the nutrition from foods, athletes may need to boost themselves with supplements to stay in shape and in good health. Look for supplements that contain:
-Essential Fatty Acids to build healthy cell membranes (nutrient transport and waste removal), healthy hormones, and to manage the inflammatory process, etc.
-High-quality multi-vitamin/mineral formula.
-Proteolytic enzymes in case of acute injury to reduce inflammation and assist the healing process.
-MSM: to relieve pain and inflammation. MSM can restore flexibility and permeability to cell walls; fluids can pass through the tissues more easily.
-Vitamin C and bioflavonoids.
-Silica, Glucosamine and Chondroitin for healthy joints and ligaments.
These guidelines are not written in stone and trial and error is the only way to find out what diet is best for you. I recommend experimenting on non-event days so you can kno wthat you are in prime shape for you races or competitions. Good luck!
Francesca Orlando is a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner in private practice in San Diego, CA. She is a certified GAPS practitioner and a Lead Instructor for the Nutritional Therapy Association Inc. Her expertise in traditional diets comes from a family background in biodynamic farming, wine making and the Slow Food movement. She is a follower of the works of Dr. Westin A. Price and Dr. Francis M. Pottenger, Jr. and believes that food is medicine and that through proper nutrition the deleterious effects of the standard American diet can be reversed. You can reach her with questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit her Website, www.healthfullivingsd.com.