A Six Step Planner to PowerFuelâ„¢ Nutrition

Over the last few years of working with athletes, people wanting to lose weight, and patients with elevated blood pressure, elevated cholesterol, metabolic syndrome or diabetes I have been privy to a number of interesting nutritional habits! It has also become pretty clear to me that many of us fall prey to one or more nutrition-related health & performance pitfalls, more often a result of nutrition misinformation by unsuspecting friends, colleagues, health professionals, the media and anyone out to make a quick buck. When it comes to nutrition, it is almost unbelievable what people actually believe and the ways in which they go about trying to improve their health &/or performance with nutrition.

Before you start training to improve your health and sport performance you need to assess your strengths and weaknesses, your current state of fitness and set some health and performance goals. Nutrition is no different. Just like a successful training program, a successful nutrition program requires that you assess your current habits to see where your nutritional strengths lie (things that you are easily doing well on a daily basis) and where your weaknesses occur (barriers or triggers to poor nutritional habits). This will help you see where you could make some improvements and where you need to do some more homework to improve your nutritional knowledge. When I see a keen athlete being consistently inconsistent I know there is much nutrition work to be done!

Six steps to PowerFuelâ„¢ nutrition. With these next six steps you will improve your nutritional knowledge and be able to take advantage of proven nutrition techniques to improve your health and performance!

Step 1 - Take a good hard look at your eating habits.
Just how big are your portion sizes for different foods? You may need to downsize your dishes and take your cutlery under control! Ask yourself the following questions:
  1. Do you avoid any of the following food groups?
    a. Whole grains, breads and cereals
    b. Vegetables
    c. Fruits
    d. Milk, fortified soy milk, yogurt
    e. Cheeses
    f. Meat, poultry, fish, eggs
    g. Legumes
    h. Nuts and seeds
  2. Do you skip meals/snacks (eg breakfast) regularly?
  3. Do you crave or binge on certain foods?
  4. Do you follow a vegetarian diet with little advice?
  5. Do you go “on” and “off” different diets?
  6. Are you currently following a fad diet?(Atkins, Zone, etc)
  7. Do you avoid eating fat?
  8. Do you restrict your carbohydrate intake?
  9. Do you often feel fatigued or low on energy?
  10. Do you often feel irritable and find it hard to concentrate?
  11. Do you feel dizzy and light headed during training?
  12. Do you find it difficult to get through your workouts?
  13. Do you get overuse injuries frequently?
  14. Do you get colds easily?
  15. Do you make yourself sick because you feel uncomfortably full?
  16. Do you worry you have lost control over what you eat?
  17. Have you recently lost >5 kg or 11 lbs in a three-month period?
  18. Do you believe yourself to be fat when others say you are not?
  19. Would you say that food dominates your life?
  • If you answered YES to any of these questions then there are changes you can make to your eating patterns, food choices and timing of food intake to improve your health, your ability to train well and achieve peak performance in your sport.
  • Meet with one of the Peak Performance Registered Dietitians / Sport Nutritionists - we help you to bridge the gap between the sciences of nutrition and exercise and healthy eating and active living. Our goal is to help you to achieve Peak Performance in your life and in sport!

Step 2 – Rate Your Plate
Rate your plate to see what your nutrition habits are now. This can help you see what you’re doing right and where you need to make changes.
Read each statement carefully.

Give yourself 2 points if the statement describes what you do every day.
Give yourself 1 point if the statement describes what you do sometimes.
Give yourself 0 points if the statement never applies to you.

  1. I eat a variety of foods from the different food groups at EVERY meal.
  2. I drink at least 8 cups of fluids (water, juice, milk, soup, etc) throughout my day and never lose more than 1% of my body weight in a training session.
  3. I eat the most colorful vegetables and fruits.
  4. I eat good sources of fibre such as whole grain products, fruit, vegetables and legumes.
  5. I include low-fat sources of calcium and vitamin D such as milk or fortified soy beverages in most of my meals and snacks.
  6. I have a protein rich food at least twice a day (i.e. cheese, meat, fish, poultry, eggs, legumes, soy protein, nuts/seeds).
  7. I eat a plant protein at least once a day (i.e. legumes, nut butters, miso, tempeh, tofu, soy protein, nuts/seeds).
  8. I have a vegetable or fruit with each meal and snack.
  9. I use highly unsaturated liquid oils (e.g. canola oil, soy oil, olive oil, safflower oil, sunflower oil, corn oil, flax oil, hemp oil, pumpkin oil, walnut oil).
  10. I make sure the foods I eat are safe (cold foods cold and hot foods hot).
  11. Throughout the day I never go more than 3-4 hours without feeding my body.
  12. I wait until I am hungry to eat.
  13. At mealtimes I stop eating as soon as I feel full.
  14. I always rehydrate and refuel within 1 hour of working out.

Total your score and see how your eating habits rate.

Score results:
0 - 12 - You need to make some changes…the sooner the better!
13 - 19 - Not bad, but you could be making better choices….
20+ - You have pretty good eating habits – keep up the good work!

The long-term goal is to change your eating habits so that you get a score of “2” on every question. If you need help with improving your eating habits:
Check out the Peak Performance Sport Nutrition Services

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Step 3 – Eat Enough and On Time
Are you eating enough, not too much, and eating on time? Surveys suggest that most athletes do NOT consume sufficient energy to support needs. They have a tendency to supply needed energy AFTER it is needed mainly because they are poor planners with many work, home and sport commitments or they are restricting their intake to achieve too fast a rate of weight loss leading to disordered eating patterns. Training on too few calories can lead to chronic fatigue, poor immune function, loss of muscle mass and decreased performance.

Practice makes perfect
Your digestive system (as well as your muscles) needs some training to be able to keep you well fueled during your training sessions (and competition). If you want to be able to eat and drink comfortably during your marathon (or longer) event, you need to be practicing that in training. Exercising hard while eating and drinking are not things that your body would normally prefer to do at the same time – but just like skating fast, eating is a learned skill that requires the same amount of practice and attention to detail. If you plan on consuming 200-300 calories an hour and 1 litre of fluid (for example) during your race you need to practice consuming both of these in your training. Don't skimp on fluid or calories during training!

So why do so many of us train on too few calories (and fluids)?
All it takes is getting dropped by the pack when the pace picks up or on a hill climb during training and it's easy to start thinking that “if I just lost a couple of pounds I would be able to stay with the pack". The problem with trying to diet while training is that the lack of calories and specific nutrients (especially carbohydrates) wreaks havoc on your muscles and immune system and makes you prone to injury (you will read more on that in Week 5 – keeping injury free with carbs). Taking in far fewer calories than what your body requires may result in the body attacking it's own tissues, resulting in a a weakened muscular and immune system. Training, building muscle and following a sound diet are the best way to lose weight because it comes off slowly.

How much do you need to eat?
Track your intake for three days – don’t change anything. If you are able to answer yes to the following questions then you are likely eating enough:

  • Can you train without undue fatigue? (i.e. you can train well throughout each training session)
  • Do you have a fast recovery between training sessions? (i.e. you are energized for each training session)
  • Are you maintaining your body composition (i.e. not losing muscle mass or gaining body fat)
  • Do you have optimal biological functioning (e.g. regular menstrual periods for women, able to sleep well, concentrate on the tasks at hand, etc)
  • Is there an absence of health & performance issues?

If you answered YES to any of these questions then there are changes you can make to your eating patterns, food choices and timing of food intake to improve your health, your ability to train well and achieve peak performance in your sport.

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Step 4 - Are You Getting Enough Carbohydrates?
Most people, athletes and non-athletes alike, tell me that they are aware of the importance of good nutrition, but when they sit down to eat, their eating patterns are often less than optimal.

Many athletes also don't take in enough carbohydrate rich foods
One key problem is the lack of high quality carbohydrate in everyone’s diets. This is likely a result of the fascination with low carb dieting and the rapid weight loss that occurs. Unbeknownst to most is that the rapid weight loss initially seen on a low carb diet is water loss. For each gram of carbohydrate stored in the muscles another 3 grams of water are stored along with it. This “metabolic” water ensures that the muscle cells are well hydrated and can keep functioning optimally throughout your training sessions. One tough training session can use up a large chunk of your muscle carbohydrate (and muscle water) so it is not surprising that we see huge weight losses within a day or two of eating a low carb diet. But then comes the knockout punch – if you do not replace this muscle carbohydrate you lose the ability to train hard – so low carb eating is not for athletes or anyone trying to improve their fitness level.

Kenyan runners like to say, 'You must eat to train and race hard - not to get skinny'.
Low carb dieters remain convinced that carbs are responsible for weight gain – and this is confirmed when carbohydrate rich foods (usually breads) are eaten on a day off the diet and a 5 lbs weight gain in seen. The automatic assumption is that weight gain on the bathroom scale is body fat gain, which is actually physiologically impossible to do in one day. In fact the previously empty muscle carbohydrate stores have simply refueled – with carbohydrates and water. The associated weight gain is very transient in nature because the now ample supply of muscle carbohydrate re-energizes the body to be able to do higher-quality training and the muscle energy makes it easier to train for longer periods of time. Thee extra carbohydrates make you considerably fitter! Eating more – not less - is often a key way to improve performance.

Happy muscle cells are carbo-loaded!
Athletes who are “watching their carbs” may end up feeling tired and drained in no time. This disappears rather rapidly when they begin to stock up on carbohydrate rich foods. While carbohydrate rich foods are every athlete’s best energy foods this does not mean slurping away on soft drinks, stuffing in plates of pasta or wolfing down middle of the night brownies with ice cream. It means choosing just enough nutrient rich carbohydrate rich foods to meet training needs. Follow these pre, during and post workout guidelines:

  • Pre-Workout Fluid & Food Guidelines:
    The intensity of the exercise will also dictate how much you will be able to eat and how close to your exercise you will be able to time your eating. High intensity exercise means that you should try to eat a few hours before whereas long, slow distance exercise If you are one of those frequent feeders that has to eat something right before you exercise, that's okay. Just follow these guidelines: choose something rich in complex carbohydrate, low in fibre, fat and protein, and preferably liquid if it is within the hour before exercising. Using Canada's Food Guide, emphasize carbohydrate-rich selections from within each food group. Here are some great choices:

    White bread, bagels, wheat crackers, scones
    Low fibre cereals e.g. cheerios, cream of wheat with milk or yogurt
    Vegetable and fruit juices, fruit cocktail, fruit drink
    Low fat milk, flavoured milk/soy milk and yogurt/yogurt drinks

    Stick to your own tried and true favorites that fall within the guidelines suggested AND ensure that you are well hydrated BEFORE beginning your training/competition.

  • During Workout Fluid & Food Guidelines:
    If the activity is vigorous and for longer than 90 minutes, take in some carbohydrate with your fluids e.g. sport drink or diluted fruit juice. For prolonged endurance events or activities (2 hours or more) , eat small carbohydrate rich snacks (approx 15-20 gms/60-80 kcal of carbohydrate) every 20 minutes or so. Examples include dried fruits, fig newtons and oatmeal cookies, energy, or sport gels. This ingestion of carbohydrate during exercise has the potential to delay fatigue and enhance exercise performance. Remember that everyone is different and that what works for you is not necessarily the best choice for one of your training buddies!

  • Post Workout Fluid & Food Guidelines:
    Muscle glycogen (stored carbohydrate) may be measurably reduced after 45 minutes of moderate intensity exercise. Glycogen depletion can occur in:
    . endurance athletes: runners, rowers, cyclists
    . in team sports such as soccer
    . in fitness and aerobics instructors
    . in resistance athletes e.g. weight trainers
    . in high intensity intermittent exercise e.g. interval sprint training

    The more glycogen you burn off the greater and more receptive your muscles will be to re-fueling. That means that the tougher a workout is (a function of intensity and duration), the more important it is for you to refuel...ASAP! To maximize muscle glycogen stores, carbohydrate rich foods should be consumed immediately after exercising. Timing is critical to restore muscle glycogen. Research shows that athletes who want to store maximal amounts of muscle glycogen for optimal training and peak performance should shift their intake of carbohydrate-rich foods to immediately after workouts. In fact the best way to rapidly replenish muscle glycogen is to eat or drink carbohydrate immediately after exercise. When carbohydrate is combined with protein, this muscle glycogen storage is enhanced post exercise. Skim milk, fruit yogurt or chocolate skim milk are ways to encourage post workout refueling with carbohydrate-protein combinations. Make your own power punch for recovery nutrition by combining fruit and/or fruit juices with milk or plant based beverages.

Step 5 - Keep Injury Free with Carbohydrates
Carbohydrate has been the victim of poor publicity since the beginning of the new millennium. It has also been a time of increased rates of injury among calorie conscious fitness enthusiasts. Eating for sport means following a carbohydrate rich diet – and one of the main reasons is to help minimize the risk of injury. What’s the connection between injury and carbohydrate intake? First of all, eating carbohydrate rich foods pre-workout, during and post-workout help fight off the fatigue that comes with low muscle glycogen. Keeping both blood sugar and muscle glycogen stores topped up will minimize those injuries that happen from a lack of energy leading to fatigue and muscle soreness. There is ample evidence in the scientific community that links a well-stocked muscle with a decreased likelihood of injury. That is because muscles with low muscle glycogen stores are primed for fatigue – they lose their strength and thus their ability to protect the joints from injury. Ever wonder why so many injuries occur in the last 10 minutes of training and competition situations??

Who is most vulnerable to glycogen depletion-related injury?
In-line skaters who are training at moderate intensities for over an hour – that’s anyone getting ready for the National Capital Marathon in May. It's all too easy to gradually drain your glycogen stores if you're training without eating a diet high enough in carbohydrates. Trying a new skating technique or adding in a new component of training in an already fatigued muscle exposes those muscles to an unexpected demand – which makes joint injury even more likely. As a skater you may be focusing in on specific exercises to make you stronger, certain equipment to make sure that you can brake and/or turn well BUT your diet is a crucial factor – which if you neglect will mean that no matter how good your equipment or technique are, you still may get injured.

So what can you do to minimize injury?
The stress of trying to sustain a higher level of work output without sufficient fuel is thought to contribute to muscle damage. Eat a carbohydrate rich diet to ensure that you muscles are stocked up with energy BEFORE training. This ensures that you will be able to do more skating before you run out of fuel. Before exercising, eat a small carbohydrate rich snack or a liquid carbohydrate meal one hour beforehand.

Here are some examples:
Latte with skim or 1% milk
Carton of chocolate milk
Small granola bar + water
Piece of fruit (banana, orange, grapes)
¼ cup dried fruit + water
Handful of salted pretzels + water
1-2 cups of sport drink
GORP – easy on the peanuts – add some cereal instead + water
½ bagel with jam + cup of tea

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Step 6 -Why YOU, the athlete, need snacks!

You have high-energy needs – snacking helps to bridge the gap between each meal so that you have a steady supply of energy for your training, competition and your physically active lifestyle!

Safe and Snappy Snacking!

  • Dip fruit pieces into a cool yogurt or mix pieces of a variety of fruits, add some granola, and toss together in your yogurt container.
  • Spread some nut butter onto a celery stalk, a slice of banana or a sliver of apple.
  • Tear up pita bread and dip in salsa.
  • Add almond butter between graham crackers or rice cakes.
  • Sprinkle shredded cheese over your tortilla; add a touch of salsa on top.
  • Stash small bags of dried fruits and unsalted nuts and seeds into any bag, or back pack… in case of an emergency snack attack!
  • Who said cereals were only for breakfast? Carry them around in a sealed bag and you can snack wherever you go!
  • Try a salmon snack pack – a mini can of salmon, some crackers and relish.

Stay Cool & Avoid Mid-Day Meltdown!

  • Use an insulated lunch bag to help keep foods cool.
  • Freeze your fruit and vegetable juices and use them to keep foods cool inside your lunch bag.
  • Even better, use a freezer pack designed for lunch bags.
  • If using paper lunch bags, create layers by double bagging to help insulate the food. To keep lunches cold away from home, include a small frozen gel pack or frozen juice box.
  • If there’s a refrigerator available, store perishable items there upon arrival.
    Pack all animal foods next to your freezer pack or frozen juice box – and eat these foods first!
  • Freeze your yogurt overnight and keep it for some afternoon delight!

Pack ONLY the amount of perishable food that can be eaten at lunch or for snacks. ALL perishable foods, such as raw or cooked meat and poultry, eggs, must be kept cold at all times! Combo snacks that contain sliced meats along with crackers, cheese, and condiments must also be kept refrigerated. Some food is safe without a cold source. Items that don’t require refrigeration include fruits, vegetables, hard cheese, unopened canned meat and fish, chips, breads, crackers, peanut butter, jelly, mustard, and pickles.


  • whole fresh fruit; apple banana, grapes...
  • frozen fruit, canned fruits in its own juice
  • raw vegetables; carrot sticks, broccoli florets, pepper sticks
  • 3/4 cup (175g) yogurt, try low-fat versions
  • low-fat cheese or tofu based cheese
  • natural nut butters
  • melba toasts or whole-grain, low-fat unsalted crackers
  • crisp-breads, flatbreads-whole grain breads, bagels, English muffins
  • tortillas, pitas whole-grain cereal
  • popcorn without fat or salt
  • fruit juices (unsweetened)-vegetable juices or cocktails (low-sodium)


  • dried fruits; raisins, prunes, apricots
  • canned or frozen fruits sweetened
  • dry-roasted unsalted nuts and seeds
  • low-fat microwave popcorn
  • Pretzels (low salt)
  • commercial muffins (read labels, can be high in fat)
  • graham crackers, ginger snaps, low-fat arrowroot biscuits, social teas, fig bars, homemade muffins
  • sherbet, low-fat frozen yogurt, fruit ice, frozen juice bar


  • sugar coated fruits-salted nuts and seeds
  • potato chips, corn chips, nacho chips, tortilla chips
  • chocolate, chocolate bars, candies containing chocolate, butter,
  • toffee or cream-soda pop; regular colas, orange drinks...
  • full fat ice cream-cakes, pies, pastries, croissant, doughnuts
  • cream sandwich cookies, commercial cookies

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Step 1 - Take a good hard look at your eating habits

Step 2 – Rate Your Plate

Step 3 – Eat Enough and On Time

Step 4 - Are You Getting Enough Carbohydrates?

Step 5 - Keep Injury Free with Carbohydrates

Step 6 -Why YOU, the athlete, need snacks!