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Timing Is Everything: Get the Most Out of Food

By Eric Mink

It’s a fact: People who regularly participate in intense athletics need more micro- and macronutrients than sedentary people. In the RealJock article Superfoods for superior fitness, we detailed nine powerful foods that can help meet the specialized needs of active individuals and athletes.

Superfoods for athletes can be broken down into three broad categories, each serving an individual function for the active individual:

Antioxidants: Help prevent free radical damage

  1. green tea
  2. blueberries and other dark berries
  3. spinach and other dark green leafy vegetables
Builders: Synthesize amino acids, enhance immune function, ensure hormone production, and repair muscle tissue after long workouts and competitions
  1. Whole eggs
  2. Cold water fish such as salmon, tuna, and mackerel
  3. walnuts
Sustainers: Produce long-term energy and stabilize blood glucose levels
  1. Brown rice
  2. Oats (and wheat germ, barley, bulgar, rye)
  3. Legumes such as red kidney beans, and lentils
But eating these foods is only half the battle; when you eat them and in what combination you eat them can dramatically affect the value of those foods to your body. Pratt and Matthews, authors of “Superfoods Rx”, were among the first in the medical community to encourage daily food synergy in our diets to promote powerful interactions among those nutrients that are vital to health (1). Their studies of the Okinawans and other communities who practiced synergistic eating in their diets found that these communities had the lowest levels of cancer and heart disease in the world.

By properly timing your consumption of different superfoods around your sleep, workout and workday patterns, you can better reap the rewards from their micro- and macronutrients and enjoy better health and athletic performance.

The menu below offers an eating plan that synergistically combines superfoods, maximizes the value of every bite you eat and helps power you get through tough workouts and recovery to build muscle more quickly. Use it as the general tool and tailor it to your individual schedule and daily caloric intake goals.

7 am: Wake up and breakfast
  • Consume eight ounces of warm water to stimulate the digestive system
  • Oatmeal with two egg whites, wheat germ, walnuts, mixed berries and soy milk.
Why? Upon waking, muscle and liver glycogen levels are at their lowest. This meal will provide you with fiber, protein and slow-release, low-glycemic carbs to help prepare you for your workday. Make sure to hold off on the coffee, because drinking it on an empty stomach can produce a hypoglycemic effect.

10 am: Morning snack
  • One cup of green tea, white tea or yerba mate
  • One apple
  • One cup mixed nuts
Why? A mid-morning cup of green tea increases your metabolic rate without over-caffeinating your system. Apples and nuts are nutrient- and fiber-rich foods.

12:30 pm: Lunch
  • Grilled salmon
  • Brown rice or couscous with cranberries and pine nuts
  • Spinach salad with strawberries, peppers, citrus, olive oil and balsamic dressing
Why? Salmon is loaded with heart-healthy omega-3s and protein. Spinach and citrus are high in phytonutrients, antioxidants, and other trace minerals. Whole grains will provide you with B-vitamins and complex carbs so you can function at a high level for the remainder of the day.

4 pm: Pre-workout snack
  • One cup cottage cheese
  • One cup oats and wheat germ
  • One cup mixed fruit: bananas, oranges and berries
  • One cup soy nuts
  • One cup green tea, white tea or yerba mate
Why? Your pre-workout snack needs to be loaded with power-packed foods. Do not reach for a manufactured protein bar, many of which are simply glorified candy bars. Instead, mix high-quality carbs and protein in a two-to-one ratio.

6 pm: Workout

7:30 pm: Dinner
  • Grilled tuna
  • Grilled peppers, asparagus and onions
  • Three-bean salad with kidney, black and garbanzo beans
  • One slice 12-grain bread
Why? The first 60 minutes following your workout represent an anabolic window in which you have the potential to build more muscle tissue if you provide your body with ample nutrients. To achieve this growth, your muscle glycogen levels need to be replenished, and high-quality protein will stimulate muscle-protein synthesis. A four-to-one carb-to-protein ratio will help promote this.

10 pm: Late-night snack
  • Whole fruit sorbet and one cup nuts or natural peanut butter on one slice 12-grain bread

  • Resources
    1. Pratt S. and Matthews K. Superfoods Rx. Harper Collins. NY, NY. 2004