Your training efforts are only as solid as your diet. You might not want to hear that, but the truth is that you cannot out-train a poor diet. And supplements, they are there to supplement – not replace a poor diet. If you want to improve your performance, it only makes sense that you implement these top five Performance Diet tips.
Before you allow images of lettuce and rice cakes to flutter through your mind, you need to understand that the Performance Diet is not about going hungry or starving yourself. Quite the opposite – it is about ensuring that you are obtaining sufficient macronutrient balanced calories to support your training efforts. In fact, you may find yourself eating more than you imagined!
What is a Performance Diet
Let’ start this with what a Performance Diet is not. It is not something you go on, then off, then on again. That’s a yo-yo diet, and those are the exact opposite of a Performance Diet. A Performance Diet is something you follow – it’s a lifestyle, not fad.
It is a diet that ensures you have sufficient calories and macronutrients to meet your daily needs – physical, mental, and recovery. It is a diet that evolves over time, changing with your needs – but always meeting your performance needs – never undercutting them.
Top Five Tips
1. Develop dynamic caloric requirements
Your routine is never static – you will go through periods of intense training, maintenance training, down-time/rest, bulking, cutting, etc. Depending on your program, all these phases have different names. They also have difference caloric intake and macronutrient needs.
You need to work with information sources, nutritionist, or a trainer, to ensure that you are adjusting your caloric and macronutrient needs for each of these phases. For example, a calorie and protein-heavy Performance Diet is perfect for putting on muscle mass – but if you are working to shift your training to perform well in a half-marathon, while the calorie count might remain high, the protein level will not. This is an example of how a Performance Diet is not always a Performance Diet if it does not align with your current needs.
The take away is to keep monitoring your current needs, and adjust your Performance Diet, to sustain performance results.
2. Don’t neglect protein in your morning meals or snacks
Protein is important for your body to repair tissue damage from training – in simple terms, sustain and build your muscles. As it is more dense than other foods, it also requires more calories to digest, and creates a sense of fullness when consumed.
By consuming protein as part of your day’s first meals or snacks, studies have shown this to benefit muscle health and to support weight loss by increasing muscle mass, energy expenditure, satiety hormones, glucose regulation and by decreasing the desire to snack at night. Notably, a 2017 study examined the effect of a high-protein breakfast compared to that of a high fat or high carbohydrate breakfast over a period of 12 weeks on glucose and insulin levels following the consumption of white bread four hours after the breakfast meal. The participants who consumed a high protein breakfast showed improved blood sugar control and insulin levels after consuming the white bread.
3. Cycle your nutrients and calories to match your daily needs
Not all days are created equal when it comes to your caloric and macronutrient needs. So do not treat them as such with your diet.
This tip is about looking at your caloric and macronutrient needs at the weekly level, not daily. It enables you to increase your caloric intake on days of long or intensive training, and cut back on days you do not need as much.
You can work out how to cycle particular macros in this tip as well – using high protein and fat on days of intense training – to force your body to use more fat resources for energy while focusing on carbs more during rest days.
This is also a tip in which we are going to point you to a great article on Healthline.com for more reading. We could repeat it all, but just click the link to read a solid, research-based summary on calorie cycling – why it works, and how to apply.
4. Focus on food before supplements
Many people fall into the trap of thinking supplements can make up for poor diets. This is not the case. Your Performance Diet needs to come first from food. When that is not enough, then you can kick in with the supplements – which research has shown to have positive effects on performance.
In a Performance Diet, we are likely referring to adding protein or meal replacement shakes when you lack the ability to eat more, or possibly access to normal food. Running around all day between client sites – OK, protein shakes are a great tool to get in a healthy snack that promotes tissue health and provides a sense of satiety – keeping you from nutrient-weak, yet easy to obtain snack options. Or if you just cannot eat more (sometimes your stomach just says “done!”) – but you know your workouts will suffer if you do not get enough calories – then have a shake.
Studies have also shown that many in developed countries actually do not obtain sufficient nutrient levels from food – even though the caloric intake is adequate. This is another reason to consider supplements – if your diet is lacking a nutrient value necessary for your performance. But the stress to this point is “necessary,” and you should not be taking any supplements that lack a direct value to your performance goals.
If you use supplements, be sure to check they are of quality, without excess filler ingredients or sugar, or other elements that work against your efforts. So even when used on top of healthy food choices, you still need to read the labels when choosing them.
5. Do the math to figure out your needs – do not guess
Performance Diets are not guesswork. Hate to say it, but you need to spend some time with a pencil and calculator. Knowing your daily caloric and macronutrient needs to reach and sustain your performance means taking the time to run the numbers.
There are several online tools for this, and we’ve even covered it in our Achieving Your Target Weight article. What you need to understand is that while there is some truth to the old saying of “listen to your body” – the reality is more often than not, your body is not accurately telling you what you need to sustain a Performance Diet.
Do the math, trust the numbers.
How to Maintain
The first part of maintaining your Performance Diet is understanding it takes time. Time for you to see real results of the diet change. Why? Because this is about performance – obtaining real performance.
If your performance diet is set right, you will see results, and will be able to sustain them – not just look or feel good for a moment. But give it time. Everyone starts from somewhere…
But as your performance efforts continue, the key to maintaining the Performance Diet is to go back to the books – back to the math and update your needs. For example, if you start your performance journey overweight, without much muscle mass – but now have less fat and more muscle – and are more active, your dietary needs to sustain and grow performance from that point are different from when you started. That might sound obvious, but…
What makes most people give up is the plateau – and while there can be many reasons for one, dietary issues are common. In this, we mean that people fail to adjust their diets to meet their newly found performance levels, and then fail to see more growth. Do not fall into this trap. We recommend that every 2-3 months, you take some time to assess your Performance Diet. Check your calories and macronutrients against your current body and activity, and where you want to go next. Make a plan, and execute…
In the end, performance fitness means owning your workout effort, and your diet. Cheat at one; you fail at both.