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What to eat for better athletic performance and recovery

By Dave Schreck

What's your goal? Whether it's better athletic performance or improving your health by reducing the risk factors of chronic disease, the dietary concepts are basically the same: Control your blood sugar and insulin levels.

Did you know the Zone Diet was developed for help with heart disease and diabetes? But Dr. Sears first tested his program on elite athletes and discovered it had profound effects on performance. Exercise and weight loss is more complex than calories in and calories out. However, what's more important in athletic performance is the ability to produce the chemical energy, ATP or adenosine triphosphate. The more efficient you are in making ATP, the more competitive advantage you have.

So what do you eat for an early-morning workout, before and after a workout, a marathon, swimming a mile, walking, doing a triathlon, lifting weights, etc? Consume foods that we were genetically designed to eat, lean proteins and lots of fruits and vegetables. Unfortunately, our 21st-century foods make it difficult to maintain wellness and performance. Foods, such as potatoes, rice, pasta, bread and cereals, the foods most experts recommend for carbo-loading, diminish our health and inhibit our performance. Suggest this advice for your competitors!

The latest research has demonstrated the importance of protein quality and meal timing. The highest-quality protein based on BV (biological values), such as dairy and egg products, fish and poultry, offers trace amounts of leucine needed to stimulate protein synthesis.

Meal timing is also important. A balanced Zone meal or snack 30 minutes prior to a workout and within 30 to 45 minutes after your workout is ideal. This allows you to balance your blood sugar and insulin during the pre-demand, demand, recovery and regeneration phases of exercise, By controlling your hormones, you can reduce inflammation, decrease body fat and recovery time, and produce favorable physiological changes that will result in improved performance and recovery.

When you become aware that food is a powerful drug, more than just a source of calories, you'll begin to consume meals with a balance of macronutrients (protein/carbohydrates/fats), and you'll experience better health, athletic performance and recovery.

Individuals who perform strenuous exercise and endurance athletes will utilize the same basic Zone guidelines, plus they may need to add in a little extra fat and a few more "favorable" carbohydrates (fruits and vegetables) to accommodate their unique hormonal needs.

Here are a few meal suggestions that are low cost, quick and simple. Each one is a complete 3-block meal containing approximately 21g of protein.

  • 4 egg whites plus one chicken sausage, scrambled. 1 cup cooked steel-cut oats with slivered almonds.
  • One cup cooked oatmeal. Stir in ¾ cup low-fat ricotta.
  • Three-fourths cup 2% cottage cheese, plus ¾ cup of mixed berries or ¾ cup rinsed/drained canned fruit cocktail
  • Half can lentil soup, add ½ cup tomato juice, 2 low-fat chicken sausages, and 2 handfuls of spinach. Heat and serve. Side salad optional.
  • One 3-ounce can of tuna, top with ½ cup of salsa and ½ cup black beans. Warm in oven or microwave and top with non-fat sour cream.
  • Half can condensed fish chowder. Add ½ cup 2% milk, remove some of the potatoes, add one can smoked herring and a couple of handfuls of spinach. Heat and serve. Side salad optional.
  • 4-5 turkey meatballs or low-fat chicken sausage (21g protein), 1 small bag frozen veggies and a piece of fruit. Side salad optional.
  • Chicken Cesar salad
  • Dr. Sears' Zone bars, cookies and shakes.

Create your own meals by choosing a lean protein and adding favorable carbohydrates, like non-starchy veggies, some legumes/beans, a side salad and mixed berries for dessert. More menu suggestions at

You're working really hard at the gym. Don't let your diet work against you. Let it work for you. Here's to your success!