The Fueling Performance Pyramid: Nutrition for Health, Training and Competition

The Fueling Performance Pyramid (TM) is the lens of how I work with my nutrition clients, whether they be coming in for weight management or training for a marathon.  I will briefly review each part of the pyramid, starting from the base going up.

 

Fueling Performance Pyramid (TM)

 

Fundamental Nutrition

Fundamental nutrition concepts are the baseline of what keeps us healthy as humans – eating enough veggies and fruit, protein, healthy fat, fiber/whole grains, adequate hydration, eating enough calories and nutrients to maintain general health and immune function, a healthy gut, maintaining a healthy body composition (healthy does not necessarily mean six pack abs), and more.  Other non-nutrition aspects of recovery can fit into this area as well including rest, sleep, foam rolling/stretching, stress management, etc.

First and foremost, we are all humans.  Every athlete is a human and athletic endeavors are built upon it.  If an athlete is sick, they cannot perform their best – therefore we must make sure all aspects of fundamental nutrition are covered before moving to the next phase,  Performance Nutrition.

Performance Nutrition

Performance nutrition are the aspects of fueling that are designed to promote adaptation around training and/or competition.  Some of the aspects of Performance Nutrition are inherent to Fundamental Nutrition, such as consuming adequate calories and protein, however you may be adding in additional calories, carbs, protein, fluid, electrolytes, etc. to replace what is being depleted by training.

Also, certain “rules” of Fundamental Nutrition such as eating adequate veggies, fiber, healthy fats, etc. may be temporarily suspended around training times due to the effect it has on digestion.  You don’t want an upset stomach on mile nine of an 18 mile run, or 20 minutes into a 45 minute high intensity training class.  This is usually only a few hours of the day, so most of your fueling will still be focused on Fundamental Nutrition.  For example, if you train in the morning, you can have your veggies with lunch and dinner.

Another issue that crops up is that athletes may under-fuel themselves because they are trying to eat clean and stay away from things like sugar and salt.  Throughout most of the day, it may be a good idea (i.e. you usually don’t need Gatorade if you’re lounging on the couch), but some of the main areas that get depleted during training (especially during prolonged, intense training in a warm environment) are your glycogen stores (carbs), fluid, and electrolyte levels (primarily sodium).  Therefore, to maintain performance and promote recovery, you may need to add some of this into your diet around training.  If you have an off-day, you most likely won’t need it.

Up to this point the vast majority of my recommendations are based around whole foods, with the exception of a whole-food based bar if you are really strapped for time, or the inclusion of sports drinks or a scoop of protein powder (ideally just one or two ingredients: protein + a stabilizer like sunflower lecithin) around training times if real food is not readily available or well tolerated by your stomach.  The last, and smallest piece of the puzzle is Supplemental Nutrition.

Supplemental Nutrition

Let me lead this section by saying MOST supplements, when not curing a clinical deficiency (i.e. iron for iron deficiency), are not proven to be effective.  A great resource is the Australian Institute of Sport Supplement Guide – if you notice their Group A, the list of supplements with the strongest scientific evidence, is short.  Very short.  And within that list, most are “sports foods” and “medical supplements”.  Only five performance enhancement supplements (out of how many out there?!) have enough evidence to make it to group A.  Also, these supplements are designed to be used for certain athlete populations – for example, beta-alanine may not be useful for a marathoner.

And what is the performance benefit of these well-researched supplements?  About 2 to 3%.  That means 97-98% of your results comes from proper training, recovery, and Fundamental/Performance nutrition.  If you’re eating like crap and training like crap – creatine will not magically make you a powerlifting champion.  Get the other things right first, then, if appropriate, consider trying things.  However this brings up two major caveats: supplement purity and the placebo / belief effect.

A fair amount of research has come out that shows a surprising number of supplements do not match what’s listed on their label – with either added substances not listed on the label, inadequate amounts of listed supplements, or too much of listed supplements, all of which could affect your body in unforeseen ways.  Trying to get third party safety verification of your supplements can be helpful through organizations such as NSF for Sport, Informed Choice or ConsumberLab.com.  But remember, they only test one batch out of many, so there’s still always a chance.  This issue is of greater risk to athletes whose governing bodies who have strict doping guidelines such as the NCAA and/or IOC.

Research has also shown the belief that a supplement or recovery practice will help performance may in fact, improve performance regardless of whether that supplement is truly efficacious.  And what is the performance enhancement of this belief effect?  1 to 3%, shockingly similar to the “proven” effects of the supplements listed above. Shona Halson and David Martin do a great job explaining this phenomenon in their review: “Lying to Win – Placebos and Sport Science”.

Finally, let me close this section by saying there are supplements out there that are quite effective, but HIGHLY unsafe and usually banned – such as steroids.  Please don’t take them.

Summary

I hope the Fueling Performance Pyramid provides a general framework on how to build your nutrition or fueling regimen.  The “secret sauce” is lining up all of the variables so they work together to maximize adaptation, promote recovery and keep you healthy.

Stuck? An Activity to Overcome a Chronic Dieting or Defeated Mentality

Overcoming Chronic Dieting

Overcoming Chronic Dieting: How About Half a Burger and a Big Salad?
Image Courtesy of Microsoft Images

I frequently work with clients who have “tried every diet” and feel stuck, frustrated, and sometimes even defeated by their excess weight or declining health.  They keep trying the latest fad diets – eating like a caveman, avoiding all gluten, drinking endless juices – gain a little traction and then lose it, sometimes slipping back further than when they started.  Lose 20 pounds, regain 30.  Wash, rinse, repeat. They come asking, “Why can’t I stick to any of these diets?  What’s wrong with me?”  And those questions are actually the key to the answer.

You see, most diet plans breed a destructive all-or-nothing mentality where if you don’t follow their program perfectly, you’re labeled a failure.  Do this enough times, and you may even start to believe it…which is the furthest thing from the truth.  It’s actually all of the diet plans and cleanses that are flawed because they leave out the most important part of the equation: YOU!  Do you really want to go the rest of your life without a cookie, a glass of wine or a slice of pizza?  Or would you rather determine a set of sustainable eating and physical activity habits that get you the results you want, while allowing you to live your life, too?

How Your Health and Fitness is Like a Car

A metaphor I often use in my coaching classes is that you’re driving a car, which represents your life, health and fitness.  At some point you may realize that you’re driving down a road you don’t want to go down, but you can’t see any other alternate route out yourself.  So you try handing your steering wheel (and money) to someone else who promises to lead you away: a powder, a pill or the latest NY Times best-selling “diet” book.

Unfortunately, their foggy path isn’t what you really wanted, but they promise to get you off your current road, so you go along for the ride.  You labor on this new route for a while, not really understanding what you’re doing and just hoping it gets you somewhere you want to be.  During this process, you may start to feel helpless, out of control or overwhelmed – which makes sense since someone else is driving your car (parts of your life) for you!

Eventually, the road gets too bumpy and out of frustration, you reclaim the wheel and u-turn back to your original path.  Or you end up on a worse path, broken down in a ditch (injured) or just stuck in the mud.  But you don’t have to be. From this point forward you can choose to make repairs, take back the steering wheel for good, and ensure any future plan or fitness/nutrition coach becomes a motivating, guiding passenger rather than a dictatorial driver.

An Activity to Reclaim the Steering Wheel

A great first step for taking back the steering wheel, whether you’ve dealt with chronic dieting for decades, or you just feel “stuck” in your current habits is the activity below, excerpted from Death of the Diet:

“Divide a piece of paper into five separate columns. At the tops of the columns, write down the last five diets you were on. Then for each diet column, write down the following information:

  • How long you were on the diet (specific dates work best, in chronological order).
  • What the diet involved doing/restricting/changing.
  • The results of the diet.
  • How you felt during the diet.
  • What caused the diet to end?
  • What happened to your weight or physique over the six to twelve months following the end of the diet (assuming you didn’t start a new diet)?
  • What about the diet worked for you? Think about things you could see yourself doing again…for the long-term.
  • What did not work for you in the diet, and potentially led to you ending the diet?

If you don’t have a history of chronic dieting but feel stuck in your current habits, despite wanting to make a change, think about and answer the following questions on a piece of paper:

  • Was there a time when you were happy with your health, fitness or weight? Describe that time, and the habits you had then.
  • How did you get into your current situation?
  • What has changed between then and now? How did those changes create your current habits?
  • Is there anything you used to do that you can start doing again?
  • If you’ve never been happy with your health, weight or fitness, consider what you think you may need to feel or experience to know that you are breaking out of your current habits and making positive changes.

Using this information, you can likely get a sneak peek into which actions and Easy Eight Habits will be easiest for you to start with. For example, if you know you like fruits and veggies, it might be easier to start adding in food to your diet rather than cutting things out. By adding those fruits and veggies to your meals and snacks, you will likely get fuller faster or be less famished at meals, so you will naturally eat less. And eating less results in fewer calories consumed, which typically means a slimmer waistline!”

If you feel more confident in changing your physical activity habits rather than eating, you may choose to focus on going to the gym or playing a sport a consistent number of days per week (or month), or increasing your daily step count.

Different eating and physical activity approaches work for different people, so learn from your past, consider your present, and confidently, gradually drive your car towards long-term results knowing what works for you.

FEEDBACK: What do you think of the car metaphor?  Can it be made better?  Considering your current road, what is one eating or physical activity habit you would like to improve to start down a fitter, happier route?

Revolutionizing the Resolution…Set Health and Fitness Goals that Stick!

A Veggie + Chicken Stir-Fry Resolution

Image: Stoonn / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Guest post by Dwayne Brown, CSCS

The date is January 1st. Today is the day when most people are trying to put into action the resolutions that they hastily made on New Year’s Eve. Gyms across the nation will be bursting at the seams with new members and I’m pretty sure Weight Watchers’ business is always at its best right after the New Year. For the next couple of weeks people will make a valiant effort to keep those resolutions. Then after the New Year buzz wears off (pun intended), people usually fall back into the same old patterns that led them to make their New Years’ resolutions in the first place.

So how can we avoid resolution hangover (the disappointing feeling of not accomplishing goals)? The first step is to take a serious look at your resolution once you’ve left the New Year’s Eve party, preferably once you have had time to let your head clear. Look at them with a critical eye and decide whether they can be realistically attained and/or if you really want to attain them. For example, you and your significant other’s decision to become vegan this year might not seem as enticing when you open your refrigerator and find the parts of four different animals staring back at you saying “eat me”. A better resolution would be “I’m only going to eat red meat once a week”. This way it’s not such a shock, and once it becomes easy, you can progress it further.

The next step to keeping your resolutions is to get them on paper. Studies show that writing things down makes them more likely to actually happen. Once you write your resolutions down, make copies and put them in places where you’re sure to see them. So if you have a weak spot for cookies and you resolve to lose weight then tape that resolution to the cookie jar. You’ll quickly begin to realize that these kinds of reminders will either deter from doing the wrong things or encourage you to do the right things.

The final tip for keeping resolutions is to keep them everyday. What I mean is whatever the resolution is…do it every day. If you resolve to be more physically active, aim to move a little bit more everyday rather than just blasting yourself with one extra workout on the weekend. This means if you have the option of taking the stairs or the elevator, then there is no option. You’re taking the stairs. When it’s feasible take the extra time to walk to the store instead of driving.

These are just a few suggestions for avoiding the “I didn’t keep my resolutions” blues. Remember:

  • Make sure your resolutions are realistic and attainable.
  • Write down your resolutions and place them in places that will motivate you to take action
  • Take steps towards achieving your resolutions every day…practice makes perfect!

Even though we only make New Years’ resolutions one day in the year, it takes 365 days (and more) to keep them.

How Thinking Like a Kid Can Improve Your Health and Fitness

Kid Playing Bball

Photo courtesy of: photostock / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I have the pleasure of training some awesome clients at a boutique gym in Jersey City, Hamilton Health and Fitness (HHF), that has an on-site pool. Pools are coveted in urban areas, so there are a lot of swimming programs at HHF – including many for kids. As a result, these kids briefly walk near the training floor on their way to the pool. I’m always amused at how they look at all of the weights and machines in wonder. Sometimes they’ll just stare and other times they ask their parents, “What are those people doing?” We are, of course, training and exercising. And every so often a kid will start imitating a movement or climbing on a piece of exercise equipment (to the behest of their parents).

One time I watched a young boy, maybe 4 or 5 years old, walk over to a 90 pound dumbbell, squat down (in perfect form, I might add) and try to pick it up. Unsurprisingly, the weight won. But still, I was intrigued at how this kid just saddled up to a huge weight most adults wouldn’t go near (and a weight that was definitely heavier than him) and just “give it a go.” While some may view this boy’s attempt as foolish or unrealistic, I found a few lessons to be learned that adults can use to improve their chances of success when making positive changes to their eating and physical activity habits:

Kids Explore Possibilities

As adults it’s way too easy to get stuck in a rut or routine. And sometimes that routine is what leads us to an unhealthy lifestyle. We need to break that status quo. Kids’ minds, on the other hand, are a blank slate looking to explore; they look at everything with wonder and curiosity. They seek to interact with and understand the world around them, regardless of whether they go to a new country on vacation or are adventuring in their friends’ backyards for the 1,000th time. They notice changes in their environment and come up with lots of ideas of what they can try in a particular situation (can I pick this up? can I go there? can I climb on that?). Similarly, you can take a curious approach to eating better or becoming more active.

See your “old” surroundings with “new” eyes and build awareness about ways to live healthier. You’ll start to notice things you never knew existed, but in fact may have been right under your nose the entire time, such as a new area to go for a run near your house or an area of a kids’ jungle gym that you can use for an outdoor workout space. Or you could decide to take a walk around your workplace or neighborhood and stumble across a new place to grab a healthy meal or snack. Maybe you’ll see a new fruit or vegetable in the produce aisle that you want to try.

Kids Are Optimistic

Kids don’t know no and can’t; they assume yes and success. They smile much more than they cry. They want to be baseball players and astronauts regardless of whether they can swing a bat or breathe in space. They imagine what could be and then work towards it, assuming they will achieve it. They don’t have “baggage” that negatively influences their future pursuits. Similarly, no matter what you’ve done or tried before, approach each new health or fitness opportunity with the belief: if I put in the effort, success is inevitable.

Unlike kids, however, you may have to deal with baggage from previous experiences. But remember, with experience comes wisdom. Consider what’s worked for you in similar situations in the past and learn from what hasn’t. As I always say, “there’s no such thing as failure, only feedback.” Take your wisdom and leave your baggage; it makes for a much lighter, and easier journey.

Kids Are Persistent

Kids experiment. That’s how we learn to ride a bike or play a sport/instrument. If a kid falls down (or misses a note or fly ball), they don’t just throw their hands up in the air in exasperation and say it’s impossible. They get back up and try, try, try again. And eventually, they get better at it. Eating better and becoming more active is no different.

To get the results you want, you will likely need to develop new skills such as running, lifting weights, cooking, reducing how often you indulge or ordering different menu items when you’re at restaurants. And if the skill is new, you’ll probably mess up a few times. But rather than just give up and stay down after one slip up (i.e. oh no I ate dessert tonight, my diet is ruined, I’ll just eat whatever I want the rest of the weekend), accept what happened, get back up, dust yourself and keep moving forward. Think of each mistake you make as a missed note when playing the piano; one or two off-notes rarely ruin the entire performance, especially if we get back on key as soon as we realize it. However running away from the piano after our first mistake will.

Successful businessman Marshall Thurber once said, “Anything worth doing well is worth doing poorly at first.” I agree, because living a healthy lifestyle is undoubtedly worth doing well.

Take Action & Respond: Live life and “think like a kid” for a week, or even a day – explore your surroundings, think like you can do anything and be persistent…then tell me what changed about your “usual” actions and habits.

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