Food is life. We all know that. In fact, most individuals at Ann Richards will do close to anything in hopes of earning a class pizza party or a free breakfast taco, and of course, we all go nuts for Girl Scout cookies! Nevertheless, food has a deeper purpose than just making us happy; food directly affects everything from mood to performance. This is why what and when we feed our bodies is so important. Ever heard the saying, “you are what you eat” ? Well, it turns out that may not be so far from the truth.
It’s no surprise that when we fuel our body with sugary drinks, candies, greasy foods, or no food at all, our mind and body are sent on a roller coaster ride of confusion. As said by cyclist Carrie Barrett in Austin Fit Magazine when describing what happens after eating sugary food, “You’ll have an initial spike of energy, but the subsequent crash will likely send you on another quest of sugary stimulants later in the day to wake up.” In fact, Austin Fit Magazine goes on to say that a diet made up of greasy, processed foods high in saturated fats are some of the leading causes for trouble with focusing, feelings of depression, and fatigue. If you’re serious about improving your performance at school and general health you need to become an advocate for smart, healthy food.
Sometimes what we eat isn’t the only problem. When we eat our food is just as important and affects our performance greatly. One word commonly used in the cyclist community is “bonk”. It’s a term used to express exercise-induced low blood sugar after long endurance training. I can vouch that it isn’t pretty.
This last December my family decided to try out a free kickboxing boot camp style class at the local gym. That morning, I hit the snooze button a few too many times and woke up with only ten minutes to get out the door. Leaving in a rush cut my morning routine short, unfortunately, breakfast included.
Upon arriving, the instructors wrapped our hands with wraps and slipped on our gloves. Jumping onto the mat, I was ready to go. I didn’t think twice about the intensity of the new sport, because of my history as a swimmer and runner. Oh, boy was I wrong. Fifteen minutes into the workout I was only half as sweaty as everyone else, but I felt sick. My head was spinning and my sweat had turned cold. I remember thinking, “If I punch that bag one more time I am definitely going to throw up”. Ripping my gloves off as fast as I could, I stumbled over to the bathroom. My mom found me a few minutes later, kneeling on the tile floor, arms on the toilet as I waited for the shaking to stop. “What is happening,” I thought? “Why can’t I handle a few push-ups?”
Food and hydration, or lack thereof, has an enormous impact on our general well-being. I later found out that a bonk was not what I had experienced at all. A “bonk” occurs when the primary endurance energy source in our bodies, glycogen, is depleted. This occurs after long strenuous training of more than two hours and when the body has not received the adequate amount of carbohydrates to sustain long-term exercise.
When you are forced to stop exercising after completing high-intensity activity for less than an hour it is typically not your glycogen expenditure that is limiting your abilities. As it occurred in my case, I was hypoglycemic, which is a condition you experience if you don’t have enough to eat.
To ensure successful races and training sessions there are many things endurance athletes can do to keep those glycogen reserves full. It is important to consume adequate fuels before, during, and after training. Eating before you train will ‘top off’ your tank, especially if it has been several hours since your last meal. Make sure to replenish during a workout as well if you can with quick homemade recovery drinks or even the commercial versions at the store. After training, it is particularly key to eat a diet that is 40-65 percent carbohydrates, although the optimal value varies from person to person.
For more casual athletes, these classic good habits are the best way to start a well-balanced lifestyle that will ensure you always have the option to choose good health. Here a few good habits to start that will help make sure you never have to experience a bonk or even feel hangry, meaning feeling irritable due to hunger, again from improper nutrition.
Eat When You Plan, Not When You Can. Having a regular eating schedule is perhaps the most important step to a healthy diet. Don’t skip meals especially breakfast, because you are then likely to overeat at the next one. Feeling peckish is fine, so don’t eat every time you get a little craving. That being said, never let yourself go hungry. If you’re really feeling hungry choose something high in protein and vitamins like carrots and hummus, a banana, or maybe some peanut butter and apple.
Stay Hydrated. Good hydration is one of the most beneficial habits you can develop for multiple reasons. Not only will your skin thank you with fewer breakouts, but drinking lots will boost your energy while averting unnecessary hunger signals. Right before sitting down for a meal take a drink of water, so you are less likely to overeat. Carry a water bottle with you all day; chances are if you have it nearby you will be more likely to reach for it.
Eat Plant Based. Seek out foods with plenty of nutrients like iron, folate, and magnesium. Eat colourfully by choosing a rainbow of fruits and vegetable options for your fridge, the vitamins you need will vary as much as the colours in the plants, so the more you have the better you feel, focus, and sleep. One trick is sticking to outer rims of the grocery store; often this is where your dairy, protein, and vegetable sources are.
Be Prepared. This doesn’t mean you have to meal plan for hours every week, although that may work for some. Instead, try packing your lunch the night before when you’re more likely to take your time and be careful with what you put inside. You can even pre-prepare dishes in advance and label them for each day; this way your chaotic mornings are less frantic and you’ll never worry about forgetting your lunch. Another way to make sure you never run out of good food is to buy in bulk. It is often cheaper and this way you won’t need to make those last minute trips to HEB.
Food is life in every way. We live to eat and we live because of what we eat. Food has more control over our health than we think and monitoring what goes into our body and when can help you perform to your best ability. So if the saying “you are what you eat” really is true, wouldn’t you rather be a kale salad than a greasy cheeseburger?