We all want more of it. I can’t tell you how many times my clients and patients have asked what they could take or what they could eat for more energy. The funny thing is, they’ve really answered their own question; EAT for energy. Food provides us with calories (kilocalories actually, food labels should actually read kilocalories) so just by eating we are increasing energy. What we eat can influence our energy, but there’s no superfood or magic pill to take. Instead, quantity, quality, and timing are key.
Quantity – The majority of athletes I have worked with don’t eat enough. If you’ve ever felt very tired, eaten a meal and felt better, than you know what I mean. A few arguments for eating more: you’ll have more energy to workout more intensely, your body won’t go into “starvation” mode and use your muscles as fuel, and you’ll recover faster. Carbohydrates are especially important when it comes to recovery and energy. Carbs are your body’s preferred source of fuel and should make up about 60-65% of calories depending on training. When we run longer and harder, we
Quality – From those athletes who do eat enough overall calories, the calories come from the wrong food group. Fat is the easiest food group to get calories from because high fat foods are the densest; fat carries twice as many calories as protein or carbs (9 kcals/g compared to 4 kcals/g). Although fat provides calories, it does not aid as easily in energy. It takes more work for the digestive track to breakdown fats often leading us to feel sluggish as we wait. Fat also does not help us recover or provide easy to use energy for workouts. Fat can actually impede carbohydrates and protein from doing their job in recovery because of slower digestion. Additionally, fat eaten too close to a run might give you the runs. Not how I want to use my energy, I don’t know about you…
Timing – Too many athletes “backload” their day. They eat a small breakfast, quick lunch, and don’t snack. If you workout in the morning, refueling throughout the day is crucial for not onlyrecovery but for energy. We are most active during the day, so spreading calories evenly throughout the day just makes sense for energy. Also, it’s not great to eat a big meal before bed and waste all those calories overnight. It’s not great for our waste line either. That 20 minute window of opportunity to get a snack in after a long run or workout aids in recovery but also energy. You’ll find yourself crashing later if you wait too long. Focus on carbs but add in a little protein to aid in muscle repair and/or growth. Think back to quality when you are planning snacks aiming for mostly carbs balanced with some protein. Aim to eat every 2-4 hours depending on your exercise load and weight goals (again, talk to me about more specifics). Another huge argument for snacking is a lower body fat. Athletes who snacked were leaner (had less body fat) than their 3 meal a day counterparts even when both set of athletes ate the same amount of calories. I personally find this last stat fascinating. If you’re interested in reading more on this particular topic, see my resources.
All of these components can be fine-tuned to help not only energy but performance. If you’re interested in getting more specific guidelines for your training, please schedule a time to talk to me!
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2. Hawley JA and Burke LM. Meal frequency and physical performance. British Journal of Nutrition 1997; 77: S91-S103.
3. Jenkins DJA et al. Nibbling versus gorging: Metabolic advantages of increased meal frequency. New England Journal of Medicine 1989; 321 (14):929-934.
4. Metzner HL, Lamphiear DE, Wheeler NC, Larkin FA. The relationship between frequency of eating and adiposity in adult men and women in the Tecumseh Community Health Study. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 1977; 30: 712-715.
5. Steen SN, Oppiger RA, and Brownell KD. Metabolic effects of repeated weight loss and regain in adolescent wrestlers. Journal of the American Medical Association 1988; 260(1):47-50.