Giving your body the support it needs to get you through whatever comes isn’t some special thing for athletes. So many of my clients come to me seeking more energy. They feel drained and lethargic, or they want to just get more out of every day: get up early and get to the gym, be their best at work, have energy for family when they get home. Of course, sleep and exercise play a huge role in feeling your best. Beyond that, getting the best out of life means getting the right fuel— and 2016 is the year to do it. Here are five big nutrition dos you can use right now and throughout 2016 to reach and stay at your peak:
1. Fuel your body. Look, you can’t go six hours without eating, or skip breakfast, or pretend coffee or an energy shot supplement is food, and expect to be feeling your best. Breakfast is especially important: when you wake up in the morning you haven’t eaten in hours, so getting some fuel into you right away is essential. Skipping breakfast also makes you eat a big lunch because you are literally starving—and then you need a nap. Better to eat every three to four hours from the time you wake up.
I recommend that my clients mix carbs and protein at every meal, because they tell me that is what gives them the most sustainable energy. So, for breakfast have oatmeal with nuts, fruit and a side of scramble eggs. For lunch don’t just have a spinach salad— add some quinoa and chicken. Plan on snacking! But when you do, have a hard-boiled egg and an apple, or some yoghurt and fruit. Most compact and simplest snack: dates and nuts. What do they all have in common? They combine carbs and protein!
2. Detox every day. Detox was a big word for 2015. In 2016, let’s learn what it really means. There are no foods that will purify your body. None. But there are organs that do it: your kidneys, liver, and skin being primary among them. And when they are functioning their best you feel your best. They also support your immune system, and getting sick less often is a basic necessity for performance. What do these organs need? Anti-oxidants and phytonutrients help maintain organ function. Fruits and vegetables are rich in anti-oxidants, and colored plants are full of phytochemicals. Phytochemicals are the substances in fruits and vegetables that give them their color, and can protect the human body from disease as well. So, you want to eat both fruits and veggies, and mix colors together.
A great way to do this is a smoothie. Not the kind you buy at a store, which is full of sugar— this is one you’ll make yourself. Use from 1 cup to 1 1/2 cups of fruit per serving, and vary the colors to get different phytochemicals (such as papaya, blueberries, strawberries, pineapple and apples). Vegetables belong there, too (such as spinach, kale, beets, carrots and celery). You can also balance the fruits and vegetables by adding some healthy monounsaturated and omega-3 fats, which are known to be anti-inflammatory, such as avocado, chia seeds and flaxseeds. To make it a complete meal, I add protein powder. Your liver, skin, kidneys and the rest of your body will all thank you.
3. Eat carbs. What is peak performance? Feeling fueled through the entire day. Being alert. Being able to concentrate. Being your best self. For that you need carbs! Your brain needs carbohydrates every day for normal functioning. Your body prefers carbohydrates as a fuel source. Give your brain and body what they need. Anyway, avoiding carbs is so 2015.
You should do carbs right, though. Fruits are smart carbs, because they combine fuel with phytonutrients and essential nutrients. Like bananas, which provide potassium. There are other great carbs, like quinoa and purple potatoes (the purple comes from a healthy phytochemicals). I also like brown or black rice (more phytonutrients!). Oatmeal and beans are also great. The best idea is to have carbs at every meal so you spread them out through the day and have a constant energy supply. I recommend adding anywhere from ½ to 1-1/2 cups of a “smart” carb at every meal; how much exactly you use will depend on how active you are. The moral of the story is that your body needs fuel if it’s going to function.
4. Try maca. No one food is magic, but some are pretty close. Maca is a native Peruvian root that I’ve written about in my last two Superfood books, Peruvian Power Foods and Whole Body Reboot: The Peruvian Superfoods Diet. It resembles a small, rough stone the size of a walnut. While rich in amino acids, phytonutrients and a variety of vitamins and minerals, maca functions as an adaptogen, aiding in adrenal function to increase energy and reduce stress, creating an overall revitalizing effect. It’s actually the most studied of the Peruvian staples.
Maca is a native Peruvian plant that grows in the Andes, dating back to approximately 3800 B.C. In addition to its ability to boost energy, it has been used to increase libido and treat erectile dysfunction. It has been regarded as a potent sexual stimulant for centuries, so it’s no surprise that today it’s known as nature’s Viagra.
Maca is amazing, but it’s not exactly tasty, so plan to eat it with something. Eat it with some cacao powder and a banana in a smoothie to kill the taste. But remember, it’s not like coffee; from what I’ve observed in my practice, it isn’t instantaneous. Give it about 10 days to feel the full effects, and expect to keep eating it for maintenance.
5. Take control of your kitchen. Your health care doesn’t start at a doctor’s office, it starts in your kitchen. You can’t stay healthy if you don’t know what you’re putting in your body. That means that processed food is out. Also, restaurant food, which hides more sins than I can tell you—like a mountain of extra fat and salt. Peak performance means owning what you eat, and that means getting to know your kitchen.
So, start shopping and cooking! I understand that, if you’re used to ordering in or eating out, cooking can seem like a huge deal. It doesn’t have to be. Start small. You can buy a bunch of beautiful fruits and vegetables and make a smoothie, trying different things to see what you like. You don’t even have to turn on the stove for that! Next, heat up the oven, roast some vegetables and purple potatoes, and put them on a salad. Cook some oatmeal for breakfast tomorrow instead of grabbing a bagel.
Take it one step at a time, but with these five principles you can make 2016 your best year yet—your year of peak life performance.
Manuel Villacorta is a registered dietitian the private practice, MV Nutrition, award winning nutrition and weight loss center in San Francisco. He is the founder and creator of Whole Body Reboot, an international weight management and wellness program and author of three books, Eating Free: The Carb Friendly Way to Lose Inches, Peruvian Power Foods: 18 Superfoods, 101 Recipes, and Anti-Aging Secrets from the Amazon to the Andes and his newest book, Whole Body Reboot: The Peruvian Superfoods Diet to Detoxify, Energize, and Supercharge Fat Loss.