Unprocessed Foods and Athletic Performance

John Forberger is an award-winning, Gluten-Free Triathlete.  His website offers easy-to-read fitness advice, gluten-free product reviews and gluten-free dietary advice for both everyday parents and hardcore athletes. Today he writes about the connection between unprocessed food and athletic performance.

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Powerbar Gel

Did you realize athletes from around the world lived on an unprocessed diet for thousands of years? Think about it – African tribes, Vikings, Romans, and Native Americans were enjoying a very simplistic diet yet attained high amounts of protein and sugars. So if they did it back then with such few food options, you can too with nearly endless food choices today. Combine the diet with sports training and the health benefits are practically endless and suitable for all ages.

An unprocessed diet is extremely basic in its components, mainly consisting of fruits, vegetables, meat, and fish. Transport this back a thousand years and our ancestors were basically chomping down the same foods. Food was hard to come by and endurance exercise was an everyday activity. The average human traveled over six miles a day chasing food, according to some estimates. Hearing that, driving to your local grocer isn’t so bad, right?

The connection between a lifestyle stocked with unprocessed foods and athletic performance has been documented year after year. Want to be the best? You’ve got to train the best and also eat the best. What good is it to give your all in the gym if you are going to negate the gains with empty calories and refined sugars with zero nutritional value? Once you realize how clean and nutritious unprocessed meals are, you’ll wonder why you weren’t living this lifestyle before.

While the average American gets 40% of their calories from junk foods, consumes 63 pounds of high-fructose corn syrup per year, and kids 2-18 years old receive nearly 40% of calories from “empty” calories, it’s a sign to return to nature’s gifts. Facts are, never will any GNC protein shake be more beneficial than eating steamed wild salmon. While some may argue, not only is fresh food tastier, it’s also easier to digest and there are zero added chemicals or preservatives. Of course the common retort to eating fresh foods is – “but it’s so expensive.” Actually, purchasing locally grown foods and preparing them at home can be less expensive than eating fast food several times a day or week.

Learning from accomplished athletes and sports nutritionists, we know an athlete’s performance is directly related (amongst sleep and training) to what they eat and drink. We also know the increased strength, power, and endurance that result from a proper diet including natural foods. Then stepping it up a notch to include unprocessed foods, and your body will reach levels you never thought possible! Simply put, processed foods contain an unnecessary amount of sodium, saturated fat, and sugars that aren’t natural and damage our bodies.

Sports conditioning coaches preach a ratio of 80% diet and 20% exercise. Remember, every sport has its own nutritional needs so be sure to research what experienced athletes in your sport have in their complex diets. For instance, endurance athletes require much higher amounts of carbohydrates than basketball players. The common thread amongst peak performance in athletes is to find the right balance of proteins and carbohydrates that works best for the individual. Just because Men’s Health publishes its 2,000th “30-day perfect diet plan” doesn’t mean it will work for everyone. Experimenting with food is the only way to determine the “magic formula” for you.

With the internet’s boundless reach, lists of unprocessed foods and where they can be bought can be found in seconds. So, what’s the reasoning behind the chips, pretzels, potato chips and sodas during Sunday’s football games? Tradition? Well sorry to bust your bubble, tradition is making this country unhealthy and obese.

If you’re looking to do an Ironman triathlon, a marathon, a 5k, or a one-mile jog, listen to your body. Think of it this way: If you owned a Lamborghini, would you outfit it with Wal-Mart floor mats and gas station air fresheners? No. So why toss Fritos, Milky Way bars, and dyed foods into your gas tank?

Photo by rodderz.

A photo of Andrew Wilder leaning into the frame and smiling, hovering over mixing bowls in the kitchen.

Welcome to Eating Rules!

Hi! My name is Andrew Wilder, and I think healthy eating doesn’t have to suck. With just three simple eating rules, we'll kickstart your journey into the delicious and vibrant world of unprocessed food.

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October 1, 2013 11:22 am

I was hoping for some mention of replacements for the Power Gel, Gu, or other similar products for endurance athletes. Do you have any recommendations for nutrition during the training runs or races? I’m a marathon runner and I’m looking for options! This season I’m training with Vega sport gels, but am interested in less processed options.

October 24, 2010 9:09 am

I like the “my body is a Lamborghini” metaphor. A good way to think of things 🙂