When looking at improving performance we all know that nutrition is extremely important, but it is a huge topic. Information and opinions about nutrition can often be controversial and polarizing.
So where do you start?
“It comes down to simple answers,” says Dr. Greg Wells. “Anytime you get away from simplicity you know that something is wrong with the information.”
Dr. Wells has a Ph.D. in Exercise and Respiratory Physiology from the University of Toronto. He is also an Associate Professor in the Faculty of Kinesiology and the Department of Anesthesia, Faculty of Medicine at the University of Toronto.
Throughout his career Dr. Wells has worked with several Commonwealth Games, World Championships and Olympic competitors to optimize their performance.
He recently published The Ripple Effect which is a practical to guide to learning how eating, sleeping, moving and thinking all work in combination to optimize health and performance.
Eat Real Food
After working with some of the best marathon runners in the world Dr. Wells uses their habits as a perfect example of how you can make performance nutrition simple, “I had a chance to spend time with some Kenyan runners that are all faster then 2:03 marathoners. I asked them what they eat and drink before, during and after practice?”
“They said we drink water and eat fruit. They have never touched a sports drink. That is how they are fuelling themselves for training consistently over a long period of time.”
“They are eating real food that they recognize as food.”
Dr. Wells believes that making this shift is the most effective way to change your nutritional practices, “We need to eat foods we recognize as food. If it comes out of a box you probably shouldn’t be drinking or eating it.”
“Not that you can’t have a treat from time to time. I certainly think you probably can and should. Just eat real food that you recognize as food.”
Eating real food takes time when it comes to planning and preparation. Dr. Wells feels it is worth the effort and it comes down to taking responsibility for what goes into your body, “That biggest thing people need to do is to take responsibility for it and allocate time towards it,” says Dr. Wells. “You need to prepare your food. Don’t rely on what you can get when the urge hits when you are out on the road during the day. Don’t rely on what you can buy in and around your school, don’t rely on what you can buy in and around your work place.”
“Make your smoothie in the morning. When you make dinner make extra so that you can put that away in a Tupperware container for lunch the next day. Bring snacks with you. Bring berries, a bag full of nuts you can snack on during the day, bring your post workout smoothie that you can shake up right after you finish your workout.”
The Myth of Game Day Nutrition
Dr. Wells feels the biggest misconception that athletes have in this area revolves around game day nutrition. “A critical point is the myth of game day nutrition. I learned about this from Dr. John Berardi from Precision Nutrition.”
“I have people come up to me all the time and say ‘Greg what should I eat on game day?’ ‘What do I eat the day of my marathon?’ Or parents will ask ‘What should my child have at the swim meet this weekend?’”
“I tell them that it really doesn’t matter. They look at me as if I am completely nuts. I pause and explain whoever eats the best over a six-month period of time consistently before and after practice will always get closer to their potential compared to the person who eats poorly for six months and then suddenly eats well on game day.”
“Everyone puts all of their attention on what to eat on game day and it truly doesn’t matter. What matters is what have you done the six months before that. It matters what you have done on a daily basis. It matters what you do habitually and routinely throughout the course of the year.”
Dr. Wells philosophy is if you make small changes incorporating them consistently over time they add up to create an incredible difference in your health and performance. It is all about making 1% improvements.
Win the Morning
“Just to get started,” says Dr. Wells. “A super simple thing is to control is the first thing you have in the morning when you wake up.”
“If you have a morning workout have a super healthy snack and take something with you so when you get out of the water, out of the gym or off the track the first thing in the morning you have something ready to go that is nutrient dense and packed full of compounds that are going to dramatically improve your performance.”
He suggests to have complex carbohydrates that digest slowly and keep your energy levels high before practice. After practice one of his suggestions is to make a smoothie with greens, coconut oil, berries and vegan protein powder.
“That is probably the place that is the most controllable and easiest to do.”
For many of us this is where sticking to our nutrition goals becomes the greatest challenge. You start feeling hungry during the day and look to satisfy your hunger in the moment rather than planning ahead of time.
“Once you get going on that the next step would be to make sure that you are loaded up and take healthy snacks with you,” explains Dr. Wells. “Nuts, berries, chopped up fruit those high density type foods.”
Hydration is something we all know is important, we all talk about, but often don’t follow through with it. Dr. Wells was part of an interesting study at the National Training Centre in Toronto. They were initially looking at ways to optimize hydration during workouts, but found that was not the real issue, “We measured the athletes before and after morning workout as well as before and after afternoon workout.”
“The athletes actually improved the hydration during the workout itself. The problem was that they were showing up to practice dehydrated. So we stopped worrying about what was happening during practice and started working on getting them to drink more water or herbal tea or water with lemon or orange or lime.
“Improving their hydration between workouts had a huge positive impact.”
Once you have won the morning you can then work on moving forward and building your habits so that you eventually win your day, week, month, year and life.
“Step by step order of priority I would probably do breakfast, snacks and hydration during your day. Then lunch, then dinner. If you do that over six months you won’t recognize yourself when you are done that process.”