Rebecca Rusch — pro mountain biker, Leadville vet and healthy eater extraordinaire — tells us about a few simple changes you can make to your eating habits now to help prepare your body for whatever you decide to throw at it later.
I think most serious athletes plan pretty well for their important competition nutritional needs. Leading up to and during an event, our focus is heightened and the goal we’ve been training for is staring us in the face, giving us motivation to keep our nutrition on the right track.
But how are you fueling the rest of the time? Is your nutrition consistently as good as it could be? Could you be doing a few simple things right now to kick start your health and training and deliver an even stronger you in August? I say, “Yes!”
Right now, you might be months away from your “A”-race, enjoying a little downtime and relaxation while you can. Mental and physical breaks are a necessary part of training and peaking. However, that doesn’t mean you should neglect simple things like hydration and essential daily nutrients. I’m not proposing you take all of the fun out of eating or live like a monk, but make a few easy tweaks and you can enjoy major benefits.
Here are a few simple things to consider in your DAILY nutrition plan. If you practice these tips consistently every day, you will feel more energetic, focused and ready to tackle both your training workouts and your life. You will rest better and your training will be of a higher quality. The changes you make now will pay off big in the months ahead.
Tip #1: Stay hydrated all the time, even on your “off” days.
Dehydration is a chronic problem for a very statistically large number of people. Be honest: Do you really drink enough water every day? It’s pretty easy for me to hydrate during training, but staying on top of hydration throughout the rest of my day is a challenge. Urine output should be “clear and copious.” If it’s not, drink more. Thirst is not a good indicator of hydration needs. Especially in cold weather, I find I struggle to drink enough water. I use flavored teas, a squeeze of fruit juice, or GU Brew electrolyte tabs to spruce up the taste of my water and make myself drink more. I carry a water bottle around with me all the time. I force myself to drink a full glass before I have any coffee and a big glass before meals. This is the single biggest thing you can do for your health right now.
Tip #2: Eat at home more often or make your own lunch.
I love going out to eat, but restaurants tend to serve bigger portions and you don’t know exactly what’s going into the food. They might be cooking with much more salt and oil than you really need. The social atmosphere also makes it easier to space out and forget what you’re putting into your mouth. Save eating out for special occasions. I’ve embraced cooking and really like spending the off-season experimenting with new recipes. My favorite cookbook right now is The Feed Zone Cookbook by Biju K. Thomas and Allen Lim. Great flavors, simple recipes and super healthy.
Tip #3: Eat more things that come in natural packaging.
This is a simple way to avoid tons of sodium and processed foods that have little nutritional value and are full of ingredients you cannot pronounce. There really is little value in things that come in packages, like chips, frozen dinners, mac and cheese, canned vegetables and sauces. The list goes on. Take a serious look in your refrigerator. How many things do you have in there that will not go bad in a week? Can you get rid of most of them and fill your fridge with fresh food? I’ve found it’s pretty easy to do things like blend up fresh tomatoes instead of buying canned tomatoes. Buy fresh pasta instead of dried. Cook with fresh herbs like cilantro and parsley instead of dried. Eating fresh will supply tons of micronutrients that are not present in packaged food.
Tip #4: Break the bread and pasta habit.
I dabbled with gluten free a while back because I thought it might help my asthma. Turns out it didn’t and I’m not sensitive to gluten. But the experiment was worthwhile because it forced me to open my eyes to carbohydrate options other than bread and pasta. It added a ton of variety to my eating, providing flavor and nutrients I wasn’t getting before. I still eat wheat, but gluten-free things that are now regulars in my diet include quinoa, sweet potatoes and rice. To simplify my choices, I make a big batch of one of these options to keep in the fridge at all times. Then when I’m busy or starving, I have the option of mixing it with eggs and veggies for a healthy five-minute meal.
Tip #5: Buy only what you should eat.
If you fill your fridge with fresh food, including fruits and vegetables, yogurt, nuts and other healthy stuff, you will set yourself up for success. Just make a point of shopping well and you won’t be tempted to make bad choices when you’re at home.
We’ve all heard the saying, “You are what you eat,” and it really is true. As athletes we are asking our bodies to do extraordinary things for us. We might as well make it easier by fueling really well and putting the best things possible in the tank. Implement these easy nutritional changes now and not only will you feel amazing, but come race day, you won’t be looking back, wondering if you’ve done everything you could to maximize your performance.