How to Eat for All-Day Energy and Athletic Performance
Everyone has likely tried multiple diet styles, modalities, or meal timing practices. There are thousands of different diets put out by “experts,” and books about weight loss line the shelves at the bookstore like bad wallpaper at your grandma’s house.
While most of these diets speak to weight loss, a concept that 84% of Americans have dealt with at some point, most diet plans don’t deal with the true nature of food - to give you energy.
By demonizing food and talking in terms of clean versus dirty, health food versus fast food, and organic gluten-free vegan-friendly versus Panda Express, we’ve all but forgotten what food is actually here to do.
A 3-Step Approach to Eating
I brought together three proven concepts into one plan that takes nutrition, timing, and hormones all into account. This approach works with your body’s natural rhythm and chemistry to ensure you won’t be pounding coffee at 2:00pm just to get through the day. By working with your body instead of against it, you can be effortlessly focused both at your job and the gym, with no pre-workout required.
By using these tactics, we’re using your body’s normal functions intelligently to feel awake, think clearly, and sleep hard:
Carb Backloading: By eating most of your carbs at the end of the day, and after your workout, you’ll never get the crash associated with spiking your blood sugar. This will also ensure your sleep is deeper and comes more effortlessly, in addition to making sure your muscles have all the fuel they need to develop and recover.
Nutrient Timing: By eating light throughout the first part of the day, your sympathetic nervous system stays active. This allows you to stay in fight-or-flight mode (or work-rapidly-on-your-spreadsheet mode). Even though this evolutionary mechanism was intended to help humans stay alert while hunting, you can harness the power of this hunger and apply it when you need to focus and be productive. In contrast, getting really full from a big meal switches on your parasympathetic nervous system, which is designed for rest and relaxation so your energy can aid in digestion. So, if you want to be productive during the day, leverage your evolution and stay hungry.
Hormone Balance: Our bodies are the site of countless chemical reactions that happen whether or not we want them to or are even aware of them. Many times these reactions are hormonal responses to internal and external stimuli. For example, cortisol is a stress hormone that gets a bad rap for increasing belly fat, but it also plays a role in energy production. Cortisol spikes in the morning soon after rising, and decreases about an hour later. By taking this into account, we can choose to have caffeine about an hour after rising instead of rolling out of bed and immediately pounding a latte. That way we are able to get the maximum energizing effect from the coffee. This plan works with your body’s natural hormonal responses instead of against them to maximize energy and alertness during the day.
How I Stay Fueled All Day
I work with clients all day long, and my schedule is strange because I generally have a two- to three-hour break around lunchtime before I train for another five hours. So it’s important for me to not experience the crash that many people associate with the post-lunch hours.
My approach to eating enables me to be productive all day without needing an energy drink at lunch to get through the afternoon slump. The bonus of this style of eating is that by giving your body exactly what it needs to be productive and feel great, you’re also setting yourself up for success with regard to weight loss.
"Cortisol levels spike after waking, which gives you a bit of energy, and then dip after an hour or two."
Having a good day in terms of nutrition can be helpful in other aspects, as well. You’ll sleep better, have better workouts, and be in a generally better mood. Do this program for a few days in a row and you’ll be amazed at how good you feel when you wake up in the morning.
Here’s the program I use, feel free to adjust this for your personal use. If you have questions, post them to the comments below.
The first thing you should consume after waking is 40oz of water. You can use a bit of lemon in if you like, but properly hydrating yourself is one of the best ways to stay energized and feeling good all day. This also doesn’t cost anything or require any fancy supplements.
While you drink your water, spend a few minutes doing some arm circles, neck circles, stretching your legs, and just moving around lightly. This will energize you more than a cup of coffee.
Five minutes after finishing your water, make a protein shake of proteins and fats. Use peanut butter (or PB2 for fewer calories), avocado, or full-fat Greek yogurt as a healthy fat. Use a scoop or two of protein and almond milk or water. The goal here is to have a high protein, high fat breakfast. Save the carbs for later in the day. So, no fruits, no milk, no high-carb smoothie mixes. This shake should be between 350 and 500 calories.
If you’re a coffee or tea drinker, one hour after you wake up is the time for that. This is because cortisol levels spike after waking, which gives you a bit of energy, and then dip after an hour or two. Drink coffee in conjunction with this dip in cortisol in order to get the most out of the caffeine.
If you’re a snacker or you get hungry before lunchtime, another protein and fat meal with a small amount of carbs is great. I like to mix a half-cup of Greek yogurt, a scoop of protein, and a handful of berries. Some raisins, a half-cup of almonds, and one scoop of protein mixed with water is also a good option.
Avoid the lunchtime carb binge and also avoid eating heavy foods. I like to have a protein source along with a salad or piece of fruit. Chicken salad and an apple is a good option, or anything along those lines. This is an easy thing to get while eating out, and also an easy thing to pack for lunch, so there’s little excuse for having a bacon burger at lunch.
"With the approach I suggest, you’re setting yourself up for a good second half of the work day[.]"
This sort of lunch will ensure you have plenty of energy to finish out the workday, and with a light meal in your stomach you won’t be reduced into an afternoon zombie. Not to mention, science tells us that zombie state will reduce your willpower if someone does happen to offer you the leftover donuts in the break room.
With the approach I suggest, you’re setting yourself up for a good second half of the work day, and since I’m assuming you’re going to exercise after work, you’re also setting yourself up for a great workout, which will lead to great sleep afterward and another good day tomorrow. See how this all works?
Pre- and Post- Workout
Your pre- and post-workout meals should be roughly the same from a macronutrient point of view - higher in carbs for energy and high in protein for recovery. You can use the Greek yogurt snack from above. Use a low- or non-fat Greek yogurt with double the berries or some added bananas or pineapple. I’m using coconut-flavored protein right now, and it’s amazing.
Another option is a protein oatmeal with some fruit, or a protein shake with a banana blended in it. If you feel slightly sluggish going into your workout, feel free to supplement with some branched chain amino acids (BCAAs). I’ve found these to help with both energy and recovery.
Since you’ve now had a successful day and hopefully a great workout, as well, dinner can be a larger meal. This is for a couple reasons:
- Eating a meal slightly higher in protein and carbs will aid in recovery from your workout.
- Carbs will make you sleepy since your body has to use more resources for its digestion, so it’s a nice natural sleep aid in the form of your dinner.
I like to eat a starchy carb like white potatoes, sweet potatoes, rice, quinoa, or occasionally pasta. Have a protein source like chicken, fish, or steak, along with some kind of veggie. I prefer eating veggies that have been roasted in the oven.
If you get hungry after dinner and you’re anything like me, then you’re craving something sweet. Make another one of those Greek yogurt treats from above or make a protein shake concoction with a bit of peanut butter and half of a banana.
Eat to Win
This is a fairly simple template, but one that can completely change the way you feel during the day. Additionally, I’ve found when you eat to fuel your body rather than eating to lose weight, the results you want actually come much faster.
Eat to win, and you’ll feel and look better. Make the change this week and see how you feel.
Check out these related articles:
- Rethinking Recovery Nutrition
- Eat to Perform - Simple Dietary Advice for the Athlete
- Top 10 Foods to Gain Muscle Mass
- What's New On Breaking Muscle Today
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