Dr. Grove - How does "fueling" the body increase performance effectiveness?
There are two systems to consider when we talk fuel: the body and the brain. Both require energy to operate properly, and of course, we get this energy through our food and nutrition. Aside from considering nutrition for providing the building blocks of the body, food provides the necessary components to create the fuel for action of both systems.
The fuel for the body and the brain comes from fat (animal sources and oils), protein (meat, eggs, dairy, beans, etc), and carbohydrates (sugars from breads, fruit, and candy). Without fuel, neither can operate. Inadequate fuel causes a crisis in tissues and performance is significantly impacted. Thankfully, our body can shift between fuel sources and even to the extent of consuming its own tissues such as fat (often good) and muscle (usually bad) when needed. The brain is not so flexible, and this is where fueling becomes so important for the athlete.
Matt Fitzgerald wrote a wonderful summary of this situation in his book “Brain Training for Runners”, where he reviews the research and literature exploring the phenomenon of “bonking” or “hitting the wall” where an athlete can’t perform experiencing failure of efficient movement, decision making, and may even lead to the need medical attention. What is clear from the science is that the body rarely becomes the limiting factor in performance but instead is nearly exclusively the failure of fueling in the brain.
So, fueling is very important for performance, but the aspect we focus on increasingly is fuel for the brain and nervous system.
Basic nutrition should be the first concern of an athlete. Balancing the intake of fats, proteins, carbohydrates as well as fiber, and other nutrient is mandatory for good health and performance. Remember that an athlete is under special stresses that demand an increase of nutrition. These stresses require increased calories as well as materials needed for optimal recovery and repair of tissues.
As for fueling for activities, an athlete needs to be aware of their increased needs. Specifically, as we consider the needs of the nervous system and the brain, this means increased need for carbohydrates as well. The problem that the brain has is that it is slow to refuel. So, in higher stress demands, such as competition, the brain can experience a fuel crisis. The way to avoid this is to make sure that fuel is present before the beginning of demand (preloading), then that there is carbohydrate available during the event and used as the energy demands dictate.
A very simple activity based plan looks like this:
Water of >70-90oz depending on amount of activity
Breakfast: Eggs, toast, bacon, fruit, juice
Snack: 5-15g protein, 20-40g carbohydrates (>complex)
Lunch: Chef salad with bowl of fruit
15min - 5-15g protein, 20-40g carbohydrates (>complex)
During workout/competition every 15-20min depending on intensity:
5-15g protein, 20-40g carbohydrates (>complex)
Dinner: 2 Chicken breasts, broccoli, sweet potato
Just like a Formula One race car depends on the right fuel to propel it to the highest speeds, our bodies require the right fuel to propel them to the best performance. Do yourself a favor and create a fueling plan with your workouts and competitions in mind, with the principle of the "right fuel at the right time" in mind.