I have always pushed my body with my workouts, I guess it comes from a discipline from a young age and the fact that I am always pushing my boundaries. In a regular week I shift between functional training, swimming, skipping and Yogapilates. Basically involving strength and conditioning with some cardio. I have used this approach for all my sports nutrition clients; including Sachit Sharma, who won the Wimbeldon under 14 title last year.
What sends me into a pleasant surprise almost every day is I recover faster with the dietary regimen I follow, and can power through my workouts with ease. It boils down to the way I eat pre and post workouts and also what I eat at my main meals. What keeps me fit, at the age I am at which is in my 40’s as a woman, who is perimenopausal, and still be the best I have ever been on the physical and mental front in my life? While a lot comes from my meditation practice and yoga (things like focus and a strong mind) – on a physical level 80% comes out of my food.
So I am letting you in on my secrets – high performance foods and methods to work with your foods to maximize your workouts and recover faster, with a vegan approach.
Two things I have done for the last 8 years which lays the foundation for what I am going to let you in on: One, I focus my day on ‘nutritionally efficient foods’ and do not take foods that cause my body to go into a ‘stress’ mode. My diet has consisted of only what I call ‘nutritionally-dense whole foods which focus on cellular regeneration and giving you abundant vitality. So if you make these foods the bulk of daily diet, chances are you will gain from these in nutrients that your body needs. Just remember foods that get assimilated by the body, give you more energy-as these foods require lesser energy used up by the body for digestion (as opposed to refined, processed foods). Also, the body demands lesser food as the foods in itself are nutritionally-whole and the brain has a way of turning off the hunger signal once the body has been fed a bunch of nutrients.
Two, everything you eat comes with a nutritional ‘stress’ component to it if your body does not utilize it or if the body takes time to digest it. Nutritional stressors are: coffee, tea (Indian tea with caffeine and tannic acid), soft drinks, aerated beverages, or alcohol (minimal) and sugary starchy foods (all that’s made from refined white flour and yeasted), animal foods, dairy, wheat or gluten foods, simple sugars [high-fructose corn syrup, jaggery, other sweeteners] anything preserved or processed. I have been off all these energy depleters for the last 8 years.
The nutritional stressors (mentioned above) create an acidic environment throwing your body’s pH balance off. People with high acidosis will fatigue faster and also their sleep patterns get affected. So while you may be on a diet you think is benefitting you, if you are prone to eat foods I have mentioned as high-stressors, you will never recover post exercise in a way that can help you through your workout or even recover after.
Here are the secrets to a high-performance, high-recovery diet to maximize what you get out of your workouts.
My diet is naturally more alkaline and the bulk of my diet focuses on whole grain, vegetables (of which greens form a huge part), quinoa, amaranth, sprouted seeds, fruits, beans, nuts, some sea weeds and spirulina and a sea week called kombu. I get my fats from avocado, nuts, coconut and sesame oil (cold pressed) and coconut meat (garri) and natural food sources. I did increase the intake of vegetables in the last 7 months to almost 40% of my daily volume consumption and decreased whole grain to 20%, kept beans/legumes, quinoa and amaranth to 25%, fruit 10%. These help my blood condition to stay more alkaline, and also cause 100% assimilation of nutrients [effective digestion and less toxic food passing through my body), contributing to high performance levels during my routines.
Another secret is to keep the enzymes active in all foods, so focussing on lighter cooking styles. Over cooking destroys enzymes and also nutrients (please remember there is a difference between ‘cooking’ and ‘over-cooking’). I also supply abundant amount of enzymes by way of good quality fermentation (in the form of quick pressed salads, pickles [made in brine], miso paste, as without these enzymes foods are not turned into that which can be used by the body efficiently. The recovery post exercise depends a lot on the body’s enzyme levels.
Eat chlorophyll-rich foods
I make sure I am using some form of greens in my daily diet along with cereal grasses like wheat grass both rich in chlorophyll – supporting my energy levels and providing my body with the extra ability to help oxygenation (vital for cellular regeneration). This helps me in performing well during my exercise routines and also increases my body’s pH levels.
Eat assimilated protein
I eat natural plant sources of protein with a high pH in the form of sprouts, nuts, seeds and legumes [not over-cooked, as this makes it acid-forming], spirulina, wheat grass, leafy greens. Having said that one should feel free to include fish or if you eat chicken and eggs then do so, but remember meats create acidic blood condition, so offset this with leafy greens as well.
Note: Whey and protein isolate powders usually do involve chemicals, the net protein is lower and also acid-forming; try looking for a vegan plant based powder, there are some very good brands available online nowadays
Workout and Eating Tips
Eat a something that will digest fast (as lesser time is expended during the workout on digestion) and something that will burn fast like dates (simple carbohydrate heads to your liver for instant energy), also fruit sugars are good. I also added cold pressed coconut oil, as it has medium-chain triglycerides that give you instant energy. What you eat is also determined by the level of energy you will end up expending during your workout. This is good for the intense form of workouts and the ones that are done in a shorter span of time (like the CrossFtit routine). For something that lasts longer and needs sustained energy, I would recommend some protein like quinoa, good fats from seeds or nuts, with a dash of dates to get the simple carbohydrate.
Do not restrict your calories here in the quest to lose fat. Post-workout your snack should have some good fat, some protein and a little simple carbohydrate. I focus on a greens smoothie with ½ an apple [fruit sugars], spirulina (for protein) and some nuts for good fats. Also liquid here which helps the blood move freely to transport its nutrients – as post a workout blood is anyways working to clear out toxins and lactic acid build-up-so we don’t want to take the blood away from this activity to the stomach for digestion. Your lunches and dinners should be nutritionally-whole foods.
Artificial vitamins and supplements inhibit recovery
The constant intake of supplements to enhance performance is something that is common nowadays. People who exercise feel that their body will throw out what it does not need. It’s quite the opposite: while water soluble vitamins and minerals do get thrown out, the fat soluble minerals do not and go straight to your fat cells, causing fatigue. So while the body goes through a lot of stress to recover post a workout, you are adding more stress on it to throw out stuff it has not utilized from the these supplements and inhibiting recovery post workout.
Stimulating drinks like coffee, energy enhancers fatigue you
The desire to have stimulating drinks and foods, in the form of coffees, teas and quick energy boosters with refined carbohydrates and sugars is commonplace. While these will give you a short-term fix; while refined carbohydrates will cause insulin levels to go out of whack, coffees and teas will cause short-term serotonin burst and a rise in cortisol levels, lowering immune system response. In the long run this causes energy levels to plummet.
Lifestyle practices that help: Combat stress – I do it by meditation and yoga, get a good night’s sleep (increase melatonin, by exposing yourself to minimal light an hour before bed), get a lot of sunlight as often as you can, drink enough water and liquids to stay hydrated, do a body rub daily – to help eliminate toxins.
And some more: Incorporate leafy greens in a greens juice daily (I like to do this post a workout combining proteins, enzymes, eat frequently during the day – spreading nutrients through the day, eat lighter cooked foods and in summers one raw salad a day, make sure that you plan your snacks around whole foods not junk.