Nutrition for performance
Nutrition is essential for supporting your general health and training needs. The right diet will provide you with the energy and nutrients to meet the demands of your role.
To be able to perform at your best, you need to ensure that you are healthy. Following the guidelines in Fuelling the Force will go a long way to optimising that.
Nutrient rich food provides macro nutrients, that fuel and rebuild muscle tissue broken down when we train hard and also micronutrients, that work like messengers in the body, signalling the necessary physiological pathways that aid in the fuelling and recovery processes. Outside of that, there are other dietary strategies you can use to further enhance your ability to adapt and respond to training, and to perform better.
While timing of food intake around workouts isn’t always necessary, if you are finding it hard to recover from your training you could benefit from timing your carbohydrate and protein intake around your training. This is particularly important if you have especially hard workouts and if you have subsequent workouts within less than 8 hours, to help replenish muscle glycogen stores and repair muscle tissue.
So, what does that look like?
Key nutrition strategies to improve your performance
- Have a meal within two hours of beginning a hard workout. A meal that incorporates amounts of nutrients as outlined in Fuelling the Force will be sufficient before heading into the session. Remaining hydrated is also important - sipping on water in the lead up to a session is also recommended.
- If beginning a session early in the morning before breakfast, and the focus of the PT session is performance, a small amount of carbohydrate can help restock liver glycogen which has been depleted overnight. Muscle carbohydrate stores may be adequate but it takes some time for the liver to convert these to glucose to push out into the bloodstream. A banana may be enough to head into a high intensity session. For low intensity sessions, there is likely enough time for the body to utilise its own fuel but some protein that is quick to digest (such as whey protein powder mixed with water) has been shown to be sufficient for an early morning workout. Caffeine (3-6mg/kg) is a known performance enhancer and can also help aid performance.
During a workout
- During a workout, you may not need to take on board any fuel (especially if it’s less than 90 minutes long) hydrating with water throughout is likely fine for your session.
- For high intensity sessions, a small amount of carbohydrate can help signal to the brain that you have fuel on board to increase motor output. Practice ‘carbohydrate rinsing’, where you swirl sports drink around your mouth and then spit it out, or have a small amount of carbohydrate in the form of a jelly lolly such as a Gu Chomp.
After a workout
- The requirement for post-exercise nutrition is determined in part by the pre-exercise meal. If exercising early in the morning, i.e. before there is an opportunity to take on board nutrients, it is a priority.
- Post workout, aim for around 0.8-1.2g/kg body weight of carbohydrate, from sources that are low in fibre and quickly digested to help replenish muscle glycogen that will allow for a quicker recovery. For example, if you weigh 70 kg, getting in 56-84g carbohydrate would be appropriate. This translates to a banana sandwich, fruit salad with Greek yoghurt, 350g sweet potato, or a cup of cooked rice.
- Choosing to consume caffeine after your session (3-8 mg/kg body weight as part of your post-workout drink, or in capsule form) can assist with muscle glycogen replenishment, however, be mindful of the time of day (and overall caffeine intake) as caffeine in the afternoon may disrupt sleep patterns (and sleep is super important for recovery). An energy drink, while incorporating both carbohydrate and caffeine, is not advised from a health perspective.
- Post-exercise protein (up to 40g) is important to stimulate muscle protein synthesis and help with the recovery process, particularly if a meal isn’t going to be consumed in the next two hours. This is equivalent to around 2 serves of a standard whey protein drink and is the optimal amount if doing a total body resistance workout. If you are just doing an upper body OR lower body workout (not both), around 25g will be adequate.
- For those trying to improve body composition and shed body fat, getting in the recovery fuel is important, however, at the next meal focus on fibrous non-starchy carbohydrates along with an appropriate amount of protein (between 25-40g as a minimum).
Performance Nutrition. Learn about how nutrition basics and specialty topics enhance Warfighter performance during workouts, training, missions, and recovery. Resources and tools provided by CHAMP Uniformed Services University: Human Performance Resources.