What your workouts might be missing…

When I ran track in college, our nutrition coach would encourage us to drink at least two cups of chocolate milk after every workout. Oh I was more than happy to live by that standard--BYU Creamery's chocolate milk is one of the best things you'll ever put in your mouth. As a team, we were also encouraged to eat all our daily allotment of bagels, Good2Go bars, and protein drinks. Also never had a problem with that;)

While I seemed to keep on the weight I needed, I never felt completely recovered between workouts. My legs usually felt heavy and tired for practice the next day and my thoughts were slow and unmotivated. I was doing everything I knew how to do to get an edge in training--lots of sleep, plenty of chocolate milk, and as much protein as I could put in my mouth. But during those years I jumped for BYU, things never really clicked into place, and for the most part, my performance was average.

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In hindsight, it should have been more obvious to me that the state of my digestive system along with the way I was eating would never allow me to achieve the health and performance I wanted so badly.

And here's why.

1) When you have a damaged gut flora (again, I'll refer you to Dr. Campbell-McBride's book, GAPS, on what that means and how it happens), nearly every stage of digestion struggles to perform it's needed function. Healthy bacteria in the gut are essential in getting nutrients into the body, regulating hormones, balancing weight, and improving body composition. No matter how many push-ups, back squats, or miles you put in, if your body can't absorb nutrients and regulate hormones, your body composition will never improve.

2) When you are eating a diet of nearly all sugars and processed carbs, (i.e. very little fat and low protein) your body simply learns to rely solely on these sugars and carbs as it's main source of energy. Then when it comes time for physical activity, the body burns through stored sugars (glycogen) very quickly, leaving you with no other source of energy. This point is what we might refer to as "crashing" or "bonking." Also not ideal for trying to exercise and achieve fitness goals.

Between a damaged gut, unable to absorb fats, proteins, and carbohydrates, and limited stores of energy, it was a miracle I had any energy to compete at all. The unfortunate part is that I think many of us fall into this category without even knowing it. We have huge energy spikes and crashes, feel tired and worn out most of the day, and have a hard time feeling motivated to exercise.

But I don't experience that any more. Ever.

I work out from 6am to 8am every morning (and love every minute of it) and still feel strong and excited the same day when mountain biking with friends in the evening.

So what's the difference? How did I go from a malnourished, sugar-addicted weakling to a healthy, fat-burning Olympian??? (Pleaseā€¦ just humor me there for a minute. Let me dream.)

The transition isn't easy nor is it a simple quick-fix. Honestly, it takes diligent focus on eating for health, healing, and performance. It requires the right food at the right times. It requires spending money on fresh and good-quality food.

But putting in the effort, you might come to find, as I did, that you have never--in your whole life--felt faster, stronger, healthier, or more ready to up your max. And that's pretty cool.

So let's get started on the details.

What Happens When We Exercise

When we need energy to move, breathe, and live, our bodies rely on the breakdown of nutrients that have been stored from food we've consumed--namely fat or glycogen (stored sugar).

During a shorter, intense workout, (something like P90x or CrossFit) your body will mainly use up stores of glycogen in the muscles. These stores are relatively small and so run out fairly quickly. In order to help your body transition to burning fat as energy, and leaving glycogen stores for work outs, you'll need to reduce the amount of processed sugars and carbohydrates you eat during the day and replace them with healthy fats, proteins, and whole sources of carbohydrates (mainly vegetables and fruits). Then, after your work out (and within 15-30 minutes), you'll need to consume a good number of whole carbohydrates--to replenish glycogen in the muscles--and protein--to rebuild the muscles themselves.

(If you need some ideas for healthy, carb-dense meals for post workout, check out the Post-Workout Recipes. I'll try to post my latest favorite on there soon--the last two weeks I've been doing a Pumpkin Protein Smoothie every morning! Here's a little sneak peek to get your mouth watering)

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End result? You are building strength and lean muscle mass from working out, you are replenishing energy stores in the muscles to be ready for whenever your next workout comes along, and you are burning fat as energy throughout the day as you eat healthy, balanced meals.

So... What Should I Eat to Build Better Body Composition

So, what you are saying, Amy, is that I need to stop consuming processed carbohydrates and sugars all day, and start eating real, whole sources of fat, protein, and carbohydrates?

Yes. That's exactly what I'm saying. This will teach the body to use both carbohydrates and fats as sources of energy. It will help you have more energy, better body composition, and will heal a myriad of other health issues while you're at it.

Nutrition For Performance

If you want an example of a normal day of performance nutrition on GAPS (I call it-- my "Paleo" athlete adjustments on the GAPS diet. I still follow the GAPS diet but add in some focus on eating for athletic performance in addition to digestive healing) then click the link below. And if not... well then just don't click it.

Workout and Refueling Schedule

5:30 some cultured cream with honey (a quick digesting fat gives a little extra energy for the long haul at the gym. If your goals include muscle gain, you can add in some more carbs here too)

6-8 MMA and Crossfit at The Pit Elevated!! My favorite part of the day hands down:) shout out to my Muay Thai girls!! In between Muay Thai and Crossfit I sometimes drink some coconut milk or nuts for some more quick-burning fats to keep me going for another hour of high intensity WODS.

8:15 as soon as I can get home I whip up a protein smoothie. Smoothies are a great way to get in some extra calories as they are quick to whip up and add in between meals. For some ideas, visit the Pre/Post Workout Page

9-9:30 Another protein and carb dense meal. Usually eggs, chicken, or salmon with some squash or other vegetables. Sometimes a frittata or omelet.

The rest of the day as usual--plenty of homemade broth, vegetables, proteins, and healthy fats. Good, healthy fats include fresh olive oil, coconut oil, grass-fed butter, and whatever animal fats you have with a meal.

I can't tell you the difference in my athletic performance. I can work out for long periods of time without feeling like I am dying. Even if I work out hard in the morning I have enough energy to go mountain biking with friends in the evening. I can hit it hard at the gym (no pun intended;) and still feel great the next day. Eliminating processed carbs and sugars and and eating plenty of good fats and proteins has enabled me to live the life I want, doing the things I love, every day:)

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