The Fundamentals: What to Eat for Peak Performance
With these five building blocks, you can create a diet that doesn't just fuel you—it powers you.
Athletes often refer to their food as fuel, but it's a lot more than that. "A balanced diet can help you get stronger, healthier and more focused", says John Berardi, PhD, the co-founder of Precision Nutrition and a Nike Performance Council member. "Eating well isn't just about getting in certain nutrients. It's about understanding how those nutrients nourish you".
Berardi, a specialist in nutrient biochemistry, helps athletes unlock the power of nutrition to transform their bodies and performance. He says the first step is to make sure your diet covers these five fundamental categories.
This macronutrient is your body's most powerful building block. It's made up of amino acids, chains of molecules that help you develop muscle and boost recovery. And because it takes longer than carbs do to break down, it can make you feel fuller longer, which can help you avoid overeating. You could get your daily dose from powerful plant foods like lentils, oats, almonds, chia seeds, kale, peas and mushrooms, as well as meat, fish and eggs.
- Fruits and Vegetables
There's a rainbow of colours in the produce aisle, and each one provides different phytonutrients. Green spinach has nitrates that can improve blood flow and boost performance. Red tomatoes contain lycopene, which has been associated with heart health. Orange carrots pack beta-carotene to help support a healthy immune system and may keep your mind sharp. Add the full colour spectrum to your grocery basket to make sure you're getting a sufficient range of nutrients.
It's got a bad rep, but fat not only helps you absorb vital nutrients, it also delivers concentrated energy all by itself. The problem is that most people get way too much of the saturated kind, which has been linked to high cholesterol and is found in meat, butter and coconut oil. To keep your fat intake on the healthy side, you'll want to balance saturated fats with plenty of monounsaturated fats, found in nuts, olives and olive oil, and a regular intake of polyunsaturated fats, from flaxseed, fish or algae.
When athletes talk about food as fuel, they're often talking about carbohydrates, which deliver energy to burn during athletic performance. For longer-lasting energy, choose whole, unprocessed foods like beans, sweet potatoes, oats, brown rice, whole wheat and quinoa. While all carbs get broken down into sugars, these break down more slowly, translating to more sustained energy and less of a crash.
The most important element of any diet is often the most overlooked. Every nutrient you consume relies on water to transport it through your body. For athletes, water also helps flush out metabolic waste produced during a workout and keeps joints lubricated, which can help you move well. Staying hydrated can even help regulate blood pressure and body temperature.