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Effectively fuel for outdoor pursuits

Ten nutrition guidelines for optimal performance

Outdoor athletes have unique dietary requirements. According to wilderness fitness trainers Doug and Courtenay Schurman, outdoor enthusiasts can maximize their performance by eating foods that best meet their dietary needs. In The Outdoor Athlete, they offer ten nutritional guidelines for outdoor athletes.

  1. Eat Frequently. Every day, try to eat 5 to 6 equally sized meals or snacks every 3 hours or so. By eating smaller meals more frequently, you avoid getting too hungry or too full and you teach your body that it will receive nutritious food on a regular basis. This keeps your metabolic furnace stoked so that it releases fat stores more readily and provides you with energy all day long.
  2. Choose Food in Its Natural State. Try to eat the majority of your foods in their original form. In other words, try to eat foods that grow, such as carrots or beans, or foods that move, such as fish or chicken. When shopping for groceries, stay on the outside aisles of the store, where the fresh produce, dairy, seafood, grains, and meats are located; avoid the interior shelves, where high-fat, high-sodium, canned, boxed, frozen, and manufactured foods all reside.
  3. Eat Protein With Every Meal. Complete protein contains the essential amino acids that are necessary to every cell in the body. Protein tends to feel more satisfying because it controls the appetite for a longer time. Complete protein comes from animals and their dairy by-products. Most nonanimal sources of protein are incomplete, and you must combine them with other protein sources to get all the essential amino acids.
  4. Eat Vegetables With Every Meal. Vegetables are packed with vitamins, minerals, and fiber essential for good health. Vitamin supplements are man-made attempts to supply the known vitamins and minerals that are used in the largest quantities by the body, but they are a poor replacement for the nutrients found in fresh vegetables and fruits.
  5. Watch the Glycemic Index. Try to keep the glycemic index (GI) of your meals low so you can maintain consistent energy levels. During and right after exercise, however, consume foods with higher GI values to create an insulin spike so you can replace depleted glycogen more quickly and minimize muscle breakdown.
  6. Eat a Variety of Foods. Try to eat as many different types of foods as possible, as doing so enhances your chance of consuming all the required nutrients. Select fruits and vegetables that vary enough in color to make up the entire spectrum of the rainbow at least once a week.
  7. Drink Plenty of Water. Drink enough daily fluids to keep your urine nearly color-less. On your days off, that probably means drinking 64 fluid ounces (8 full cups, or 1.9 L) or more of water. On your exercise days, you may need to drink twice that amount. Your body is 60 percent water and requires water for a variety of physio-logical functions. Not drinking enough water can damage your health, reduce your performance, and increase your body fat.
  8. Balance Your Fat Intake. Most people function well if their fat intake is between 20 and 40 percent of their total calories. Balance your fat intake among saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated fats so that you are consuming them in approximately equal amounts.
  9. Adjust Nutrition to Training. Your body handles food differently during exercise and during the hour or so immediately after exercise. You can enhance your training efforts by adjusting your intake during this time. Consuming a drink combining high-GI carbohydrate with protein in a 2-to-1 ratio (two-thirds carbohydrate, one-third protein) both during and after training can replenish glycogen, decrease protein breakdown, and increase protein synthesis.
  10. Allow Yourself to Cheat 10 Percent of the Time. By allowing yourself to cheat occasionally, you acknowledge that you do not have to eat perfectly in order to eat well. Most people who are strict 100 percent of the time end up rebelling against their nutrition plan, making matters worse. If you eat five times a day, 7 days a week, you may allow yourself 3 to 4 cheat meals each week.

This is adapted from The Outdoor Athlete.