Lesson 8: Superfoods + Fitness =
Your Route to Optimum Performance
Previous Lesson Review:
You explored how food sensitivities can masquerade as chronic, mystery illnesses and became familiar with the most common culprits—corn, wheat, dairy and soy.
At this point in your Thrive in 30 journey, if you’ve been taking advantage of each lesson’s opportunity for action, you should be feeling a real difference—increased energy, reduced stress and an improved sense of well-being are all signs your choices are delivering results.
Whether you’re putting what you’re learning here into immediate action or using it to make informed choices and gradual change, my wish for you is that you harness these lessons to realize whatever possibilities inspired you to start—and continue—reading.
This lesson we’ll tie some of the raw information you’ve learned about nutrition and plant-based superfoods together so you can harness their power to get greater return from your fitness efforts.
Eating for Fitness
If you’re actively working on your physical condition—whether you’re training for competition or training for life—you’ll get significant value from this lesson. You’ll apply what you’ve learned about nutrition to strategically fuel your body so you’ll have greater endurance, maximize the return from your workouts and recover faster.
As an Ironman triathlete, fueling my body for optimal performance is extremely important. I always consider the effect the food I’m eating has on my energy and—more importantly—my ability to recover from training. Recovery is extremely important for competitive athletes because the quicker you can recover, the sooner you can continue training—reducing recovery time so you can train more often gives you the edge to compete amongst the best.
You may not be a competitive athlete, but supplying your body with energy and proper recovery is just as important to you as it is for me. Even for everyday tasks—like concentrating at work or having enough energy to play with your kids—it is essential that your body is properly fueled.
Speed Cellular Repair to Grow a Younger Body
Proper nutrition derived from a balanced diet of whole food sources enables cellular repair. Your body’s ability to repair and re-grow the cells that make up your muscle tissues is the key not only to recovering from your workouts, but to growing a younger body. A younger body is essentially a body that has regenerated its cells more recently—so it’s easy to see how quality nutrition that supports quick cellular repair also generates a younger body with the power to bounce back faster than a poorly-nourished body of equal biological age.
A body is able to repair its cells quickly also repairs its tissue quickly—that rapid tissue repair means even small amounts of exercise, when properly fueled with quality nutrition, will be more effective. Think of it this way: eat the right foods in the right amounts before a workout and your 30 minute workout can be as effective as a 45 minute workout.
Strategic Nutrition: What to Eat
Of course, your overall nutritional well-being is the foundation that supports your capacity for fitness—any training you do will be more effective if your general diet properly nourishes your body. But strategic nutrition—knowing what to eat and when to eat it—can help you maximize your performance, both in individual sessions and in achieving long-term objectives.
What you’ve learned so far about balancing whole food, plant-based proteins, fats and carbohydrates applies even more so when you’re supporting an active life or athletic training regimen. Different levels of activity will require different proportions of proteins, fats and carbohydrates to support optimum performance—how your body burns these fuels changes as you compare short, intense bursts of activity with long, endurance activities.
Fail to Plan and Plan to Fail: How Not to Approach Fitness Nutrition
Before I teach you how to strategically fuel your body for fitness, I need to address a common misconception that’s often detrimental: if you work out regularly (hence active in some form and burning calories), you can pretty much eat whatever you want.
This simplistic equation is false in many regards. Even if the calories you burn are equal to (or greater than) the calories you consume, this does not guarantee you will be fit or able to achieve your conditioning or weight-control goals. Nor does it give you carte blanche to dive into a chocolate cake or case of beer with abandon. In fact, training without a nutritional plan is counterproductive: if your body doesn’t get the fuel it needs to recover from a workout, it will experience additional, unnecessary stress. The likely consequence of this stress? You end up over-training as you try to compensate for impeding your own progress.
Foods For Fitness
Certain foods are especially helpful when fueling your body for fitness and to enhance performance. The common thread with all of them? Easy digestibility. Your body needs all available energy to deliver optimum performance-feeding it something that takes work to digest (before, during or immediately after activity) is a needless act of self-sabotage.
Asking your body to digest protein (regardless of the quality of its source) means sending energy, oxygen and blood to your stomach, instead of to your muscles. This compromises your speed and endurance and robs your body’s potential to meet your expectations. Not only does your body suffer from the energy-distraction of digestion, but too much protein before a intense exercise can cause dehydration and cramping, since your body requires more fluid to metabolize protein than carbohydrates or fat.
Let me introduce you to some of the right foods to use as fuel for your workouts. Each food I recommend here is easily digestible and has specific characteristics that deliver targeted, workout-enhancing benefits.
Immediate and Timed-Release Fuels:
While fruit in general is an excellent source of simple carbohydrates—the ideal fuel for short bouts of high-intensity exercise—I recommend dates for their abundant glucose. Glucose is immediately available to your liver, providing instant energy. Your body doesn’t have to break it down or convert it to a different form to use it.
Glucose is the best primary fuel before or during high-intensity activity, but as a stand-alone energy source, it has the trade-off of burning quickly (it needs to be replenished every 20 minutes).
Fructose (the other major simple carbohydrate in fruit) is the slow-burning complement to its sister, glucose. Fructose kicks in slower and takes longer to burn than glucose, prolonging its effectiveness as a fuel. Agave nectar, from the blue agave cactus, consists of 90% fructose, making it an exceptional, easily digestible source of this slow release carbohydrate.
Combined, dates and agave nectar are the perfect marriage of simple carbohydrates to fuel any workout.
Praised as a fatty acid superfood in Lesson 6, the medium-chain triglycerides abundant in coconut oil make it an excellent source of quick energy. Like glucose, medium-chain triglycerides go directly to your liver to deliver their energy, without having to be processed first.
Staying Hydrated: Replacing Electrolytes:
As important as the fuel your body needs for energy, proper hydration is critical to performance. When you exert yourself, you need more than just water to function—you must also replace the electrolytes lost when you sweat. Why are electrolytes important? They allow your cells to stay hydrated longer, which has a direct impact on your endurance.
Also introduced in Lesson 6, coconut water is a delicious, natural source of electrolytes, making it a perfect, whole food sports drink that will keep you hydrated under the most trying conditions.
A mineral-packed sea vegetable, dulse is the richest known source of naturally occurring electrolytes. I use it in a number of exercise-specific recipes.
Dulse is easily blended with three parts (fresh-squeezed or 100%) fruit juice and one part water to make a basic, electrolyte-replacing sports drink—use about a tablespoon (two strips) of dulse to every three cups liquid.
Energy-Boosters: Strategic Stimulants:
One of the guiding principles in my approach to nutrition is that you should get energy from nourishment—and not from stimulation. By stimulation, I’m mostly referring to caffeine and refined sugars, which give you energy today by stealing it from tomorrow (essentially, this is energy with strings attached—it leaves you with an energy debt—I speak about this at length in The Thrive Diet).
Because of this principle, I avoid caffeine and other stimulants, except under specific circumstances where I can justify sacrificing tomorrow’s energy for an energy-boost now (on race-day, for example).
I’ve recalibrated my system through many years of eating clean and avoiding stimulants. While I think it’s unhealthy to rely on these energy-boosters regularly, they do have a place and can be helpful when used strategically to give you a performance edge.
One of the healthiest and most effective stimulants before exercise is yerba mate, a South American herb. A nutritional powerhouse, yerba mate is packed with minerals, vitamins, amino acids and antioxidants. High in caffeine, yerba mate is usually brewed like tea, but can be added to sport-specific recipes as an energy-booster when ground to a fine powder.
Green Tea (Matcha)
This fine, chlorophyll-rich powder has an exceptional antioxidant content. What makes matcha special compared to other green teas is the difference in its caffeine; unlike other caffeine sources, matcha delivers a slow, steady energy over the course of hours, so it doesn’t cause jitters.
Green tea is also rich in the amino acid L-theanine (gamma-ethylamino-L-glutamic acid) which is found almost exclusively in tea plants. A non-protein amino acid, L-theanine is unique in that it is neurologically-active. Studies show L-theanine has a calming, anxiety-reducing effect, leading to sharpened mental acuity and concentration—from a performance perspective, focus and calmness are key in the mental component of competition.
L-theanine is also being studied for its potential to control high blood pressure and as an anti-cancer agent.
Ginseng and Rhodiola (Russian Ginseng)
Both adaptogens like maca (which you learned about in Lesson 6), ginseng and rhodiola are not stimulants in the classic sense—though they are both renowned for their energizing effects. Ginseng and rhodiola can be used strategically to increase energy and mental clarity. In addition to this, rhodiola is shown to increases your body’s anaerobic threshold (how it performs with a lack of oxygen), which can improve endurance.
As adaptogens, both are also effective at reducing the physiological effects of stress, helping your body recover after training.
Foods for Recovery:
Your body’s ability to recover from the stresses of exercise are as important—if not more so—than the actual training you do, in terms of achieving your fitness goals. These two foods (both detailed in Lesson 6 as superfoods) contribute significantly to your rate of recovery:
The most compelling benefit of chlorella specifically targeted to helping your body recover from exercise is its ability to stimulate cellular regeneration. Chlorella’s extremely rapid growth rate is made possible by the Chlorella Growth Factor and its high nucleic acid content (DNA and RNA—both nucleic acids—are the building blocks of cells).
Since training and intense exercise damage muscle tissue (the healing of that damaged tissue is what causes increased strength and muscle bulk over time), chlorella’s unique ability to stimulate cellular regeneration makes it an ideal food to include in your training nutrition.
Additionally, chlorella is highly alkaline-forming and also detoxifying. Since your body functions best in an alkaline state—and the stress of high-intensity exercise can contribute to acidity—including a strong alkalizer in your recovery nutrition can speed recovery. The detoxifying effects of chlorella are helpful in clearing the lactic acid that can build up in your muscles after exertion.
The ability to help your body cope with stress, balance hormones and support your adrenal gland makes maca a powerful nutritional tool for post-training recovery. As you learned in detail in Lesson 6, you’ll want to take it regularly to prepare your body for the stresses of intense activity; if you’re training or challenging yourself, I recommend taking a little more than your day-to-day dose to speed recovery and keep you energized.
In addition to maca’s contribution to recovery, it can also be used as an energy-booster. While most of maca’s benefit is built up over long-term use, you it can be quite energizing when used prior to training.
Strategic Nutrition: When to Eat
As I mentioned earlier in this lesson, just knowing what to fuel your body with isn’t enough to achieve optimum performance—knowing when to fuel it is the second part of the equation.
Now that you’ve been introduced to some of the key foods that will deliver energy, keep you hydrated and help you recover, here’s how you can use them to best advantage.
Earlier in this lesson, you learned that digestibility is one of the most important factors in pre-exercise eating. In addition to digestibility, you’ll need to consider the intensity of the activity you’re embarking on, as well as how long you’ll be active for—these determine the ratio of protein, fat and carbs your body will use for fuel (and thus determine what your pre-exercise snack should consist of).
This chart breaks activity into three basic levels based on intensity and duration of exercise and outlines the ratios of protein, fat and carbs your body will burn for fuel at each level:
|Sample Activities||Your Body’s Source of Fuel (% Burned)|
|1||High Intensity, Shorter Time(< 1 Hour)||
|2||Moderate Intensity, Moderate Time (1-3 Hours)||
|3||Lower Intensity, Longer Time(> 3 Hours)||
To help you prepare for exercise at each of these levels, here are three pre-exercise recipes designed to give you the optimum fuel your body will need to perform its best:
|Recipe Name||Ingredients||Step-by-Step Instructions|
|1||Direct Fuel Bites||
||1. Combine all ingredients in a food processor, process until smooth2. Form mixture into a ½-inch-thick rectangle3. Cut into bite-size pieces
4. Individually wrap in cellophane and store in the fridge or freezer
Makes 8 ½ oz bars
||1. Combine all ingredients in a food processor, process until smoothMakes 2 servings|
Banana Blueberry Pancakes
||1. Combine all ingredients in a food processor (other than blueberries and buckwheat grouts), process until smooth.2. Stir blueberries and buckwheat grouts into batter
3. Lightly oil a frying pan with coconut oil on medium heat
4. Pour batter into pan to desired size of pancake
5. Cook for 3 to 5 minutes or until bubbles appear in the batter
6. Flip and cook until done (for another 5 minutes or so).
These pancakes are cooked at a lower temperature than standard pancakes to avoid damaging their essential fatty acids—they will take longer to cook comparatively.
Makes 2 large servings
Pre-exercise, you’ll want to moderate the amount you eat. Even though these recipes are formulated for easy digestion, common-sense should prevail—you won’t want to eat the entire batch of Direct Fuel Bites right before your hockey game, for example (one or two are plenty!). If you don’t have time or aren’t keen to make these from scratch, Vega Whole Food Energy Bars are a convenient alternative to Direct Energy Bites—I formulated them with the same energy requirements and whole food ingredients in mind.
Nutrition During Exercise
Even with proper pre-activity nutrition, your body will require continual fuel and hydration as you work it. For short duration activities (level 1), your only concern should be hydration. It’s better if you hydrate before you start to feel thirsty (your body is already dehydrated by the time you feel thirst). As a general rule, I know I start to feel thirsty around minute 20 of exercise, so I make a point to drink about 15 minutes into activity.
For level 2 activity—where I know I will be exercising longer than 90 minutes, but less than two hours—I’ll have a sip of water (or sports drink) every 15 minutes. To keep fueled, I also consume easily-digestible nutrients every 25 minutes or so.
Obviously, eating when you’re literally on the run has its challenges, so I recommend making your own sports drinks and gels to consume on the go. As I’ve explained previously, I avoid commercially prepared versions—they’re usually full of artificial colors and flavors, plus they’re based on heavily refined sugars that don’t deliver the real nutrition your body needs.
Making your own sports drinks and gels is really easy and gives you control so you can fuel your workout with healthy carbohydrates instead of with garbage you can’t pronounce. Here are two simple recipes to set your during-exercise nutrition on the right footing:
|Lemon-Lime Sport Drink||
||1. Filter out pulp from lemon and lime juice (if desired)2. In a blender, combine all ingredients and process until smooth
Stores in the fridge for up to 2 weeks (re-blend before use as ingredients can settle)
||1. In a blender, combine all ingredients and process until blend reaches a gel-like consistencyMakes about ¾ cup, enough to fill two standard 4-oz gel flasks|
You learned earlier in this lesson that it’s your body’s ability to recover from the stresses of exercise that makes the biggest difference to achieving your fitness goals. Two athletes using the same training plan will see very different results if one focuses on improving recovery while the other does not. How you nourish your body after you exercise is key to speeding recovery and gives you a real edge over time.
There are two windows for post-exercise nutrition: the 45 minutes immediately following activity and the hour after the snack in the first window. Here’s how to use each window to your body’s advantage:
- Within the first 45 minutes post-workout, feed your body an easily digestible snack consisting mostly of simple carbohydrates. After you’ve pushed yourself, your body is too tired to work at heavy digestion—refuel it with liquid or near-liquid snacks, like whole food puddings or a recovery drink (see recipes below for starters).Ideally, this snack should contain minimal fat and be fiber-free so your body can get these simple carbohydrates into the bloodstream immediately. A small amount of protein (no more than 25%) will help speed glycogen synthesis, the rate at which your muscles absorb carbohydrates.
- An hour after you’ve had your post-exercise snack, eat a complete, nutrient-rich meal. Make sure this meal includes some of the high-quality proteins from earlier lessons (like hemp), a good blend of essential fatty acids and lots of vitamins and minerals. If your workout was very intense, a liquid meal is your best option (such as a smoothie, soup or a serving of Vega One All-In-One Nutritional Shake), so your body can put its remaining energy toward recovery.
Try these two recipes for your post-exercise recovery snack—they’re tailored especially for this purpose with the perfect balance of simple carbohydrates and protein:
|Lemon-Lime Recovery Drink||
||1. In a blender, combine all ingredients and process until smoothStores in the fridge for up to 2 weeks (but you’ll want to re-blend before use)
Makes about 3 cups
||1. Combine all ingredients in a food processor, process until smoothMakes 2 servings
For best results: add 2.5 grams of maca
By now, you’ll have noticed how all you’ve learned so far in Thrive in 30 is beginning to come together. You’re not just learning about the interesting features of individual foods—instead, you’re learning how to combine these whole foods to create tangible benefits for your body. Now you can take good raw information (like the glucose content of dates or the fructose content of agave nectar, for example) and start applying that knowledge to how you fuel your life so you can make a big difference in how you perform and recover.
- Start using strategic nutrition to fuel your body for activity—this week, apply what you’ve learned about pre-, during-, and post-workout nutrition by using some of the recipes provided in this lesson as fuel. Make sure to use each recipe at the appropriate time (and for the appropriate activity level).
- If you exercise mostly with level-one activities, focus on pre- and post-workout nutrition (you can stay sufficiently hydrated with water during your workout)
- If you don’t have the time, patience or inclination to make your own recipes for pre-activity fuels, Vega Whole Food Energy Bars and Vega Sport Performance Optimizer are a simple alternative
- For your post-workout beverage, Vega Sport Performance Protein helps reduce inflamation and enhance recovery. Vega One All-In-One Nutritional Shake is also a convenient, time-saving choice for your post-recovery meal
- If you’re not already using maca and chlorella in your training regime, start! Both will contribute not only to how you recover from exercise, but also to your whole sense of well-being.
Next Lesson Preview:
You’ll learn more about the mind-body benefits of fitness and be challenged to stay active in your mission to building a younger body.
To well-fueled, rapid-recovery fitness!