• Daniel Bowman PhD

Eating for Peak Performance in Sports & Business

What and when you eat will have a signicant impact on your performance in sports and business. You should always strive to eat healthily, but when you have a big event coming up, there are certain things you should do differently to perform at your best.

Eating right for peak performance starts a few days before your big event. Consume two ounces of dark chocolate (at least 60% cacao) every night for three nights before your event and about a serving of spinach (either blended into a smoothie or raw, 2-3 cups, or 1/2 cup cooked) every night for three nights before your event. Several studies have shown dark chocolate and spinach improve endurance and athletic perfomance when consumed for a few nights before performing (yes there is valdity to Popeye and his spinach). These super foods both improve performance by increasing nitric oxide, which dilates blood vessels and decreases your need for oxygen consumption.

Ideally the night before your big event, eat a serving of cold water fish, such as salmon. The omega 3 fatty acids in salmon thin your blood, which makes your heart more efficent and your brain sharper and quicker. Try eating salmon at least twice a week and add some dark chocolate and spinach regularly to your diet.

On game day or the day of your big business event (such as a sales presentation), eat about 400 to 600 calories about 2 1/2 hours before your event. You want this meal to contain easily digestible foods that convert to energy pretty rapidly. Complex carbohydrates, like oatmeal, breads, rice and pasta begin converting to energy in about an hour or so, whereas fats and proteins convert to energy in 2-3 hours. Fats and proteins are harder to digest than carbohydrates, so don't load up on them before a big performance, especially saturated fats and fried foods. Aim to get about 70% of your calories from carbohydrates before your event. And avoid too much fiber before your big event like too many vegetables because fiber does not digest. (Ordinarily you should eat about 50% carbohydrates, 25% proteins, and 25% fats, and 30 grams of fiber a day, but game day is different).

Here are some sample pregame meals. A peanut butter and banana sandwich (about 400 calories) and a piece of fruit. A 400-600 calorie smoothie with kefir or yogurt or soy milk as a base, spinach, peant butter (or some other type of nuts or whey protein) and a banana, all blended together. There are unlimited smoothie options you can make (my favorite preperformance meal). A turkey sandwich with cheese and an apple. Oatmeal with some form of protein (nuts, peanut butter) and fruit, and if you don't add protein to it, you could have an egg or two.

When you are actually performing, your body will only be able to utilize simple carbohydrates, which are easy to digest and qucikly convert to energy (they only take 15-20 minutes to convert to energy). These foods are not good for you when you are not performing, but if you need a quick boost they are exactly what you need. Examples (which can be found on NFL and NBA sidelines and locker rooms) are candy, sugary peanut butter and jelly on white bread, rice crispy treats, and bananas (which have simple and complex carbs, as well as potassium).

You should also consider caffeine about 30-45 minutes before perfoming, it has been shown to improve atheltic performance, for most athletes, in a number of studies, particluarly endurance sports, with an average improvement of 6-12%. Some people react poorly to it though. About 100-200 mg, depending on your size, is likely to help. If your stomach reacts poorly to coffee, green tea is gentler and less prone to cause anxiety but only has about 1/2 the caffeine content of coffee, so you will need to drink a little more. And be sure to hydrate with water for the days leading up to and the day of your performance.

Each person has to learn how his or her body best responds to how he or she eats, but the advice above is a fantastic starting point and will help get you to perform at your peak in sports and business. Experiment for yourself and never try anything on the day of your big event that you haven't experimented with beforehand. You will be shocked at what a big difference performance nutrition can make.