As you probably already know, commercial versions of many sport nutrition products are not usually the healthiest options. Commonly packed with artificial flavors, refined carbohydrates, denatured proteins and sometimes even harmful fats, they’re certainly not something I’d want to consume.
Some commercial options have improved over the years, but I like to know exactly what goes into mine, so I opt to make my own. Whole food energy bars, sport drinks, energy gels, energy pudding, post workout recovery drinks, whole food meal replacement smoothies and even performance pancakes are all part of my specific sport nutrition program.
What’s the Best Fuel Immediately Before Exercise?
The body’s first choice for fuel during intense exercise is the simple carbohydrate. Once it’s burned all of those available, it will then opt for complex carbohydrates. It’s in the best interest of the athlete to ensure the body is provided with enough simple carbohydrates to fuel activity so that complex carbohydrates are not needed.
If the body has to resort to burning complex carbohydrates while exercising at a high intensity, it will have to use extra energy in order to convert the complex carbohydrates into simple carbohydrates. Additionally, if too much protein is eaten before intense exercise, it will likely cause muscle cramping due to the fact that it requires more fluid to be metabolized than does carbohydrate or fat.
Also, protein is not what you want to have your body burning for fuel. Protein is for building muscle, not fuelling it. When protein is consumed in place of carbohydrates immediately before exercise, and therefore burned as fuel, it burns “dirty,” meaning that toxins are created as a result of its combustion. The production and elimination of toxins creates stress on the body and as such, causes a stress response. Ultimately, endurance will decline.
Pre-workout Snacks Must be Digestible
For a pre-exercise snack, the most important factor is digestibility. If the food eaten shortly before a training session or race requires a large amount of energy to digest, it will leave the body with less fuel—the last thing needed before exercise. Additionally, hard-to-breakdown food will require more blood to be sent to the stomach to aid in the digestion process. When blood is in the stomach, it can’t be in the extremities delivering oxygen and removing waste products, which is a requirement for optimal physical performance. It’s also not uncommon for a “stitch” to occur in the diaphragm area if food has not been digested completely before a workout or race—especially an intense one—begins.
For high-intensity shorter training and racing, it’s beneficial to fuel up on simple carbohydrates. The healthiest sources are fruits. Dates are a good choice since they’re rich in a simple carbohydrate called glucose. Glucose goes straight to the liver for immediate energy. The body doesn’t have to convert it to a different form to utilize it, making glucose-rich-foods the ideal primary fuel before or during a high-intensity workout.
Simple carbs burn quickly, however, meaning that if glucose is the only carbohydrate source, it will have to be replenished about every 20 minutes after one hour of intense activity to keep the body adequately fueled.
If I’m going to perform a mid-range or longer workout that lasts up to 3 hours, but is still quite intense; or compete in a race such as a marathon; I will have a nutritionally balanced raw bar. In addition to the dates, I include a small amount of alkaline protein, usually raw hemp, and a source of essential fatty acids such as ground flax seeds or soaked almonds for prolonged, high-net-gain energy. In my first book, The Thrive Diet, I also include recipes for sport drinks, energy gels and recovery smoothies.
Try this recipe before your next run.
Chocolate Blueberry Energy Bars
These nutrient-packed bars are easy to make and offer a convenient way to carry whole food nutrition with you.
Yield: Makes approximately 12 50-gram bars.
1 cup fresh or soaked dates
1/4 cup almonds
1/4 cup blueberries
1/4 cup cocao powder
1/4 cup ground flaxseed*
1/4 cup hemp protein powder*
1/4 cup unhulled sesame seeds
1 tsp fresh lemon juice
1/2 tsp lemon zest
Sea salt to taste
1/2 cup sprouted or cooked buckwheat (optional)
1/2 cup frozen blueberries
In a food processor, process all ingredients except the buckwheat and frozen blueberries. Knead buckwheat and berries into mixture by hand.
To shape as bars, flatten the mixture on the clean surface with your hands. Place plastic wrap over top; with a rolling pin, roll mixture to desired bar thickness. Cut mixture into bars.
Alternatively, form mixture into a brick; cut as though slicing bread.
*For even greater nutrient value, ground flax and hemp protein can be substituted on a 1:1 ratio with Vega Whole Food Smoothie Infusion or, better yet, Vega Whole Food Meal Replacement.