By Patrick McCarthy, O2X Nutrition Specialist
What is Performance Nutrition?
My name is Patrick and I’m a nutrition specialist with O2X Performance. Along with workshops, I work with professional athletes and individuals helping them to optimize their performance nutrition strategies.
Before diving into my own diet and lifestyle, I want to first clear up a common misconception that performance nutrition guidelines and those directed at the general public for overall health are one in the same. This is absolutely not the case, and often, recommendations for athletes will be very different for those who are not as active. Performance nutrition is the manipulation of nutrients we consume to achieve a performance, recovery, or adaptive benefit.
With that said, some of my nutritional habits will differ from many of you, for the reasons above (you may be more active/less active than me), and that is perfectly fine!
A Bite in the Life…
Upon waking up between 6 – 7 every morning, I will usually head straight to the fridge. Unlike many of my colleagues, I am not regimental or very organized when it comes to meal prepping, and rely on a few basic principles to construct tasty, nutritious, and varied meals on the go. I will usually have one of the following:
- Smoothie with banana, blueberries, strawberries, oatmeal, whey, chia seed, and milk
- Overnight oats – Oatmeal, blueberries, raspberries, and milk soaked overnight in the fridge
- A light protein shake, bar, or yogurt (If I’m not overly hungry)
They key here is to build the meal around protein, as it will help keep my hunger at bay until the afternoon, while I work, coach, and train. In addition, I try to get at least 2 servings of fruit in at breakfast, to make it easier to reach the recommended 5-7 servings of plants by the end of the day.
For lunch and dinner, I will wait until I am actually hungry, rather than eating for the simple fact that the clock has struck 12:00 PM. This is a habit that took me a while to develop, and really requires the ability to identify your hunger and fullness cues, the art of mindful eating.
I will, once again, prioritize protein and build around it in these meals. Sometimes, I will forego the carbohydrate, especially on those days where I’m not as active. In place of the carbohydrate, I’ll simply add in an extra handful of spinach, peppers, or some beans/peas. This adds bulk to the meal and will provide plenty of fiber to keep me full. I’ll usually rotate between stir-fries, salmon meals, curries, turkey burgers, or some homemade tacos. Plenty of protein, plenty of veg, and plenty of flavor!
What about before and after training?
I’m a basketball player and have recently started Jiu Jitsu, so my exercise sessions will typically consist of a high-intensity game, sparring, or a strength session in the gym. For the former two, fueling is important, while for resistance training it is not as much of a priority.
For this exercise, I will make sure to get a good source of white, refined, or simple carbohydrates in close proximity to the start of my session. You might be thinking, “Aren’t simple and refined bad for you?” First off, no they are not “bad” in moderation, and second, before training you will want to keep fiber to a minimum. This will allow quicker breakdown and absorption of the carbohydrate for use in your session.
Immediately after training, hydration is of the ultimate importance, and I will look to either a sports drink, coconut water, milk and/or simply water. The reason I’ll go for the other drinks first is because of the carbohydrate and electrolyte content. This will help me achieve optimal hydration and retain the fluid better than simply drinking water.
In terms of nutrition, I will always strive to consume a dose of protein, and if training was high-intensity or cardiovascular in nature, I’ll again look for a source of carbohydrates with that.
What about supplements?
To round out the article, I will share some insights to my supplement routine. This is not something I usually do, as it is crucial that individuals make decisions on supplementing based on their needs, and their needs only. However, it might help to answer some of your questions about supplements.
The three supplements that I routinely take are:
- Omega 3 fatty acids (fish oils)
- Vitamin D (in the winter months)
Some of the supplements I will take occasionally are:
- Food-based multivitamin
- Whey protein
- Nitrate (beet juice)
Omega 3’s are the essential fatty acids provided in fish oils. They are crucially important for muscle function and repair, regulation of inflammation, and heart health. I usually make sure to get more than the recommended dose of 250 mg (EPA + DHA) daily. The AHA recommends an even higher dose of 1,000 mg/day of EPA/DHA for those with heart disease (Source: AHA.org). If you eat fish throughout the week and have a healthy dose of nuts and seeds throughout the week, you may get enough omega-3 through the diet. It is important not to over consume fish, and particularly one type, as it may put you at risk for excessive mercury intake (Source: AHA.org).
For vitamin D, I will supplement with a daily dose of 1,000 – 2,000 IU, only in the fall and winter months. The best source of vitamin D is exposure to sunlight, but because of the dark winter conditions, we do not get much exposure, and so a supplement might be a good option. Of course, if you do have access to plenty of sunlight, you’ll want to make sure you are safe and careful wearing UV protection.
Creatine is a natural compound formed in the body that we also get from meat, fish, and dairy. It is an immediate and rapidly-available energy source that we can use in the early stages of performance. Studies also show it can improve recovery from training, enhance lean mass growth, and power (Source: BMC). I take just 5 grams daily, mixed into 500 mls of water or a smoothie. I try my best to take it directly before my training, although it is not hugely important that you consume it at a specific time of day.
For multivitamins, I only take these on days where I’m traveling, overly busy, and/or don’t have time to get my 5 – 7 fruits and vegetables in. For whey, I will only take it on days that I know I need an extra dose of protein, such as days when traveling or when I’ve trained. Finally, nitrates may reduce the oxygen cost of aerobic exercise and sometimes, I like to have a small drink before a basketball or jiu jitsu session.
That is a little insight to a typical day in my life. I do want to emphasize the fact that not every day looks like this. Just because I am a nutritionist, doesn’t mean I avoid the simple pleasures of life. I will often have a meal in a restaurant, a couple slices of pizza, some chocolate dessert, or something else delicious, without guilt. Why? Because I simply practice portion control with these and consume them in moderation.
I hope you enjoyed this article, and have taken some insights away. Once again, it is important that you don’t make any dietary changes based on what I do, but rather what YOU NEED. Reach out to our expert support if you need any questions answered or help with this!