I remember being a freshman in high school and eating top ramen before athletic practices. I look back at this and my stomach rolls with nausea as I imagine going into a workout today having eaten just pure processed carbs and sodium.
I think game days I took slightly more serious, packing around a water bottle and investing in a Subway sandwich. But still.
Having since played at the collegiate and professional level, and currently am entrenched in everything health and fitness as a collegiate Strength & Conditioning coach, CrossFit Level 1 trainer, and independent skills and performance trainer, I would never advise someone on the habits that I used to have in my youth.
In fact, I wish I could time travel backwards and slap myself upside the head and replace my post game ice cream with a protein smoothie.
Oh, what I wish I knew as a young athlete.
Anyways, if you are so fortunate to be in the prime of your athletic career, here are a few small changes I recommend that can make an immediate and dramatic difference in your performance.
My first experience with dehydration was when I was 8 years old while on a winter vacation with my family.
We were staying at a BnB with an outdoor hot tub, and being from an island where there aren't even stoplights, I thought this was the most luxurious creation in all of the land and didn't want to get out, thereby staying for far too long.
Once I finally clambered out, my shriveled and pruney skin wasn't the only indication I was dehydrated as I started throwing up a few minutes later.
I'm sure you've shared similar experiences in moments where your body slowly gets the water sucked from it during times like sitting in a hot tub or sauna, laying in the sun, binge drinking, or after - potentially even during - an hour hot yoga session.
The culprit of many daily instances, especially when working out, where you feel fatigued, dizzy, nauseous, or just flat out like crap, is probably because you need to drink more water.
In fact, if you know you're a heavy sweater, or have a lengthy or high intensity workout ahead, bring a liquid that includes carbohydrates (5-10%) and the electrolytes potassium, sodium, and chloride.
Why salt (sodium) in your water? It helps fluid regulation by retaining more of the fluid consumed (aka less trips to the bathroom because it's running straight through you!).
The bottom line: be a grape, not a raisin.
2. Eat The Natural Rainbow
Natural food that is bright in color is your easy guide to getting optimal nutrition. Spinach and beets in particular are arguably the two best foods for athletic performance, but other deep colored or vibrant foods like sweet potatoes, squashes, cherries, and blackberries are packed with natural performance boosters.
Kick the capped supplements, powders, and pre-workout crap to the curb and spend that extra money on the produce section at your grocery store.
3. Take Your Recovery And Rest Seriously
A hot topic amongst athletes is how to optimize recovery.
I get it, no one likes to feel sore going into a workout, or like the hydrogen ions (sometimes mistakenly referred to as lactic acid) that should be building up in your muscles 30 minutes into the workout has onset and it's only the warm up.
There is a simple solution here, and it's sleep. Everyone has their own optimal number, but typically for most people it's right around 7 to 8 hours.
My uncle, who trained to compete in the Olympics years ago in downhill skiing, would always tell me "an hour of sleep before midnight is worth two after." Wise words to live by, and boy does it help, you just have to be disciplined enough to do it.
Tip: throw your phone away from the bed so you are not on it before sleep OR checking it in the middle of the night!
4. Supplement Vitamin D
This is a big one for two main reasons: energy and mood (especially during winter months) and calcium uptake. The general rule is to supplement 600 IU twice a day, everyday, to get this important vitamin that nearly half our population is deficient in.
Find out more about Vitamin D from Registered Dietitian Kylie Burns.
5. Don't Overdo The Sugar
DIf you are a soda drinker, your athletic career is a prime time in your life to ditch this bad habit. Your athletic performance, teeth, and digestive system will thank you.
I trained an amazing athlete once, who drank nothing but Sprite, and I about passed out upon hearing this.
This is not to say because he beat human physiology that everyone can get away with this, you are better off without soda or any extra sugar, trust me.
Not only will you avoid the peaks and valleys of energy levels, and completely eliminate your desire for afternoon naps, but your body will begin to run much more efficiently.
Even if you are not an athlete, adopt this into your life! There is so much information on the detriments of sugar coming out in research lately.
One book I would highly suggest is The Obesity Code by Dr. Jason Fung, not even for weight loss purposes, but to understand the physiology of weight gain and disease, and how sugar plays a major role in this.
FACLM, M. G. (n.d.). Whole Beets vs. Juice for Improving Athletic Performance. Retrieved August 22, 2017, from https://nutritionfacts.org/video/whole-beets-vs-juice-for-improving-athletic-performance/
Haff, G., & Triplett, T. (2016). Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning (4th ed.). National Strength and Conditioning Association.