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5 Ways to Immediately Optimize Athletic Performance

Track athlete

Whether you are a high school soccer player, a competitive club volleyball player, or a champion Iron Man, how you fuel your body has a direct impact on your ability to achieve peak performance. Without the right fueling strategy, you're not living up to your full athletic potential no matter how hard you train. 


This article is for you if you are ready to take your athletic abilities to the next level.

Here are 5 of the best ways to immediately improve sports performance regardless of your age, sport, or competition level.

 

1. Plan out the timing of your meals and snacks

 

Monitoring time

You've probably heard this before: failing to plan is planning to fail. This is absolutely true when it comes to meals and snacks and is one of the biggest traps I see athletes fall into. 


Proper timing of meals and snacks can radically optimize sports performance. Spreading your nutrition out throughout the day (ideally every 3-4 hours or so) will help your body absorb and utilize nutrients the best.


That means better endurance, speed, and strength.


Each morning, regardless whether it's a competition day or a training day, spend about 3 minutes mapping out your fuel schedule. Write out approximately what you will eat and when. 


If you’re really competitive and want to get the edge on other athletes, work directly with a nutrition coach to individualize a plan for you that includes the most effective fuel timing (you can schedule a consultation with me by clicking this link, or at the bottom of this page)

 

2. Treat each meal and snack as an opportunity to add balanced fuel.


Healthy balanced meal

As we've established, what you eat has a dramatic impact on how you feel both on and off the competition field. 


Here’s the thing though, there is no one magical nutrient that will uplift your performance. You need them all. Although "eating a balanced diet” sounds boring, it is truly essential for giving your body all the nutrients it needs to thrive. 


Your diet should include a variety of foods from all the major food groups. That means fruits and vegetables, fiber-rich starches, proteins, and healthy fats all throughout the day. 


Each food benefits your body in a different way:


  • Carbohydrates provide the body with energy for physical activity

  • Protein helps build and repair muscle tissue. 

  • Healthy fats contribute to satiety, are important for overall health, and help with endurance.

Keep in mind though that timing of these foods is important (which is why you may want to work 1:1 with a coach). You don't want to eat anything too high fat, fibrous, or protein-heavy right before a workout, just as you don't want to only eat a salad with massive heaps of protein after a tough workout. Timing is everything for optimal performance results.


If you want to perform at your highest level, think of every meal and snack as an opportunity to give your body great fuel. That means balanced meals and snacks and avoiding (for the most part) foods that provide little more than empty calorie foods like highly processed junk food and sugary drinks.

 

3. Stay hydrated

 

Athlete hydrating

Proper hydration is essential for athletes to perform at their best. Dehydration can lead to decreased endurance, greater fatigue, and poor performance. Always always always drink water before, during, and after exercise to maintain proper hydration.

You can measure hydration two ways.


The easiest test is “the pee test.” If your urine is ever darker than a pale lemonade color, you’re not properly hydrated and are leaving performance opportunities on the table.

Another possibly more effective way to measure hydration is to weigh yourself before and after a workout (preferably naked) and replace every pound lost after a workout with 16 ounces of fluid. This process works especially well when developing a hydration strategy for endurance events like marathons and triathlons.


Sports drinks and electrolyte mixes can also be beneficial for you if you're a salty sweater (i.e. if you finish a workout and have salt crystals on your skin), if you're exercising for prolonged periods, or in hot and humid environments.


Electrolytes help with the reabsorption of fluids and a little bit of sugar can help replenish the carbohydrates lost during exercise (especially for young athletes or endurance athletes). Select a sports drink that gives a good balance of sodium (most important) and potassium. Magnesium can also be helpful for cramp prevention as well.


I generally recommend lower sugar options for most people, but if you are an endurance athlete or are participating in prolonged training sessions, you may very well need the extra carbs found in regular sports drinks.

 

4. Top off the tank 1-2 hours before exercise


Woman fueling with an apple

If you’ve ever crashed ("bonked") during a workout or competition, you’re likely not fueling enough beforehand.


Eating the right foods 1-2 hours before exercise will give you the energy you need to absolutely crush your performance. 


This is true for all athletes, even those with a weight loss or fat loss goal because that little fuel bump just before exercise will give you the stamina and power needed for the most effective workout.


If you're wondering what to eat, highly absorbable carbohydrates are where it’s at - fruit, dried fruit, pretzels, granola bars, cereal, bread, a wrap or tortilla, etc.


In the 1 or 2 hours before a competition or training session, top off your fuel stores with a carb-heavy snack. How much and what you eat depends on your size and stomach tolerance. Avoid anything with too much fat or fiber. A little bit of protein is okay as well, but nothing too heavy. Your body wants to use carbs. Again, if you want help designing a plan to maximize your efforts, seek out an expert nutrition coach.

 

5. Optimize recovery with the right fuel


Healthy high protein sandwich

Having adequate recovery nutrition can mean the difference between crushing the next race, game, or training session, or showing up fatigued and depleted. 


Eating the right foods (and re-hydrating) after exercise promotes muscle recovery, reduces muscle soreness, and replenishes glycogen stores so that your body is ready to go again as quickly as possible.


Most people only focus on protein after exercise, and that is a mistake.


The best recovery meal or snack includes both protein and carbohydrates to replenish energy stores and promote muscle repair. Carbohydrates actually help with the absorption of protein and vice versa so don’t fall into the trap of focusing solely on protein.


Examples of recovery foods include chocolate milk, Greek yogurt with fruit, peanut butter and jelly sandwich, trail mix, or a fruit smoothie with protein powder.

But eat only after you have rehydrated.


Most recreational athletes can get away with eating a balanced meal within 2 hours of completing a workout but more competitive athletes engaging in multiple training sessions or events per day should consume a recovery snack within 30 minutes of finishing your workout. Then eat a solid balanced meal within the next 2 hours.

 

Slay your performance with a personalized plan.

 

Proper nutrition is crucial for any competitive athlete who wants to perform at their highest level.


Following the guidelines I’ve laid out today will absolutely help optimize your sports performance…but if you’re serious about climbing the ladder in your sport OR just want to make sure your plan is solid, then you’ll want to work 1:1 with an expert nutrition coach. 


Just like when you work with a sport-specific athletic coach, you’ll gain a winning science-backed strategy, ongoing support, and the confidence of knowing that your performance is being optimized through proper fuel.


If you want to know how I can help you reach your peak performance, schedule a free consultation with me by clicking this link.

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