5 ways to fuel

Every night around 11 PM, a large mammal lurks in my kitchen with wide, hazel eyes.

He scans the cupboards hastily looking for his next meal, his fifth or sixth meal at that, to quiet the hunger pangs.

When you’re a 6’11”, 240-lb. professional basketball player, eating – and eating WELL – is a full-time job.

Meet Kyle, current professional basketball player, and my better half of almost 2 years!


This whole “eating WELL” thing didn’t happen when I initially met him, though, nor did it happen when I was a collegiate athlete.

As I explained in my last post, despite our athletic accolades on paper, we paid for it in poor health, poor recovery, poor immunity, and even possibly lost potential as athletes.

These are the changes that Kyle and I made to successfully turn this all around!

5 Ways to Fuel for Performance, Recovery, and Immunity

1) Cut out toxic foods and switch to REAL food.

Our bodies are machines.

Like a car that needs to be fueled and oiled properly, what we put into our bodies has an impact both immediately and long-term on performance and health.

For example, a New Zealand study done in 1999 had a group of young males eat a serving of French fries fried in 1.5 week-old oil (typical in the food industry).

Prior to eating them, their blood vessel dilation – how wide blood vessels open after being constricted – was measured at about 7%.

That’s normal.

Just FOUR hours after eating the fries, their blood vessel dilation was measured again.

Source: PhotoPin.com

Source: PhotoPin.com

Guess what the outcome was? Less than 1 PERCENT (Shanahan & Shanahan, 2009)!!

The ramifications?

  • Very limited oxygen to the blood, muscles, heart and brain
  • Fatigue
  • Sluggishness
  • Poor athletic performance

…and even temporary erectile dysfunction (if that isn’t motivation, I don’t know what is! Now, if only Kyle’s teammates knew what they were doing to their bodies eating doughnuts and fried foods!).

The “toxic” foods we cut out to avoid these issues include….

  • Man-made trans fats, hydrogenated oils, and high omega-6 oils: Like canola oil, vegetable oil, cottonseed oil, safflower oil, sunflower seed oil, etc. These can contribute to further inflammation, especially when cooked. For more information on what and why, read here.
  • Processed foods with Omega-6 oils: Such as commercial salad dressings, chips and snacks, nuts and nut butters with these oils and even conventional meats, seafood and eggs (non-organic has a much higher ratio of Omega-6).
  • Processed sugary foods: Cereals, power bars, yogurts, sports drinks (Gatorade, Powerade, Vitamin Water, etc), candy, cookies, etc. Most of these contain loads of sugar, food dyes, (which are linked to altered behavior), and chemical additives.

We also got real with our food.

Stuff made or processed in a factory, like Red Vines Licorice is just not recognizable by our body, and ends up disturbing our body’s homeostasis. This can turn off our good genes and express the bad, and end up getting stored in our cells for a log time. Not good.

The real, unprocessed foods we now eat:

  • Food that grows in the ground (plants!)
  • Food that has a mother (animals!)
  • Organic, whenever possible, because of these reasons

It’s simple: the cleaner the fuel, the better the machine. Right?

2. Cut Out Allergenic Foods


Kyle fueling with real food before a flight!

Unfortunately, food allergies are becoming more and more common and have increased by 18% from just 1997 to 2007 alone for children under 18 years ( Branum and Lukacs, 2008)! Allergic reactions can affect the skin, airways and nasal passages, and digestive system.

Those that account for 90% of allergic reactions include milk, eggs, soy, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat, fish, shellfish.

After some trial an error, we figured out that Kyle is significantly dairy intolerant (minus cheese) and gluten intolerant for these reasons, which were the main causes of his digestive distress and fatigue.

Once he cut out gluten and dairy on our Honeymoon (I promise I didn’t push him into it! 😉 ), he felt significantly better within a day or so.

This reflected quickly in his much more normal bowel movements.

I also cut out both dairy due to a high sensitivity and gluten for these reasons.

The bottom line: Allergies cause inflammation, and inflammation is the root of all disease. Therefore, by removing these foods, we’ve removed inflammation and up-regulated our immune system along the way.

Here are some tips to a gluten free lifestyle should you suspect you have problems.

3. Flip the Food Pyramid

Every time we eat, our body has to clean up the spike in blood sugar (especially affected by the amount of carbohydrates) by releasing insulin from our pancreas. Insulin causes cells in the liver, muscles, and fat tissues to uptake glucose for the blood, storing it as glycogen in these tissues.

If we are constantly eating loads of carbs and throughout the day (pasta, bagels, sports, drinks, cereal), our body is constantly having to deal with this storage cycle.

This results in insulin spikes, energy crashes, and hunger pangs for more carbs, which ultimately causes low level inflammation and harms performance and endurance.

Can you relate to that? I definitely can…

P1070388The truth is, our body’s preferred source of fuel is FAT.

Why else can we survive 40 days without food? It helps synthesize hormones and tissues, aids in blood sugar and weight regulation, enhances absorption of fat-soluble vitamins, and in the case of exercise, increases endurance.

A 1994 study in the Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise Journal even proves that eating a higher fat diet contributes to greater endurance to exhaustion (Garrett and Kirkendall 2000).

Three groups were assigned different diets for 7 days and then were tested for running time to exhaustion at a fixed intensity just below their anaerobic threshold.

  • Normal diet: 61%carbs, 24% fat
  • Fat diet: 50% carb, 38% fat
  • Carb diet: 73 % carb, 15 % fat

Guess who beat both groups by 16 minutes? The “fat” group.

A higher fat diet is more efficient at burning fat for fuel while sparing our precious glycogen stores (Cordain and Friel, 2005)!

Though everyone is biochemically unique and different sports do have different ranges of macronutrient needs, eating excess carbs all day long (and minimal good fats) slows recovery, decreases immunity, and most likely decreases endurance.

So, two years ago, Kyle and I both cut out eating high amounts of carbs and bumped up the good fats. WOW, did we feel a difference in sustained energy and endurance!

Currently, we this is our macronutrient intake for reference:

  • Kyle during off season and low training days: 40-50% fat, 30% protein, and 30% carbs
  • Kyle during season: 30-40% fat, 30% protein, 30-40% carbs
  • Me (I average 2 – 3 circuits or weight training sessions/week): 40-50% fat, 20-30% protein, 20-30% carbs

4. Refuel Properly

309924_616229141722023_1758399899_nPost-workout, it is important to eat within 30 minutes to capitalize on refueling glycogen stores, protein synthesis, and enhancing recovery. In order to do so, its best to consume:

  • Branched chain amino acids (BCAAs): These are certain amino acids that aid in muscle building and repair, with the best sources being eggs, lean animal protein, whey protein, or even this protein if you’re allergic to dairy.
  • 30-50 grams of glucose:  For every intense hour of exercise, refuel with REAL fuel in the form of  honey, sweet potatoes, yams, bananas, etc.

Typically, we consume this in the form of a smoothie, which actually enhances recovery because of quick absorption.

Because exercise puts the body in an acidic state, the worst thing we can do is to multiply this post-workout by consuming acidic  foods (i.e. Processed foods like chips, crackers, white flour, pasta, meat, dairy, and soft drinks.) This causes further stress on the body, slows recovery, and contributes to grater muscle wasting.

Therefore, we do our best to eat TONS of plants (especially vegetables and moderate to low fruits!) to keep our bodies at their happy, alkaline pH of 7.35.

Of course, we include good fats and proteins, too, but these can be acidic, so eating loads of plants helps off-set this balance. Along the way, we gain tons of phytonutrients and trace minerals to boost our immune systems; another “side effect” that Kyle has especially reaped the benefits of in the form of MUCH less upper respiratory tract infections during season.

5. Hydrate Well

You hear it all the time: “Stay Hydrated!”

You know the drill and why it’s especially important for athletes (dehydration affects cognition, performance, and health).

The general rule of hydration is to drink half of your body weight in ounces. Exercise, though, demands a much greater intake of fluids, depending on your body weight, level and duration of workout, temperature, etc.

Here are some other hydration recommendations we abide by:

  • Upon waking, drink 16 – 20 ounces of room temperature water to rehydrate from sleeping and wake up the body’s systems.
  • Drink water throughout the day and up until 15 minutes before practice or games, because you want an empty stomach when performing!
  • Carry a water bottle around with you, and you’ll find it’s much easier to do so.
  • Note: Eating lots of plants also contributes to hydration!

Also, Dr. Loren Cordain from The Paleo Diet for Athletes recommends drinking 1.2 pints of fluid for every pound of weight lost, and to add a dash of salt to replenish electrolytes (Cordain & Friel, 2005). {Kyle adds some salt to his smoothies especially after games.}



Are you overwhelmed?

Don’t be.

If Kyle was able to do it on our honeymoon, you can too! It starts with baby steps and if you are curious about how he did it read this.

Just remember that every bite, every meal and every choice to refuel yourself properly can benefit you greatly in terms of performance, recovery, and immunity… all things crucial for the sports “edge” and for long-term health!



Branum, Amy and Susan Lukacs. Food Allergy Among U.S. Children: Trend in Prevalence and Hospitalizations. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 10 October 2008. http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/databriefs/db10.html.

Cordain, Loren and Joe Friel. The Paleo Diet for Athletes. Rodale: New York, NY, 2005.

Garrett, William and Donald Kirkendall. Exercise and Sport Science. Lippencott Williams & Wilkins: Philadelphia, PA, 2000.

Shanahan, Catherine and Luke Shanahan. Deep Nutrition. Big Box Books: Hawaii, 2009.


Photo credit: ratterrell via photopin cc