Nutrition & Athletic Performance: How Food Impacts Our Physical Output

Yancy Camp Nutrition

Nutrition & Athletic Performance: How Food Impacts Our Physical Output


Hi everyone! Welcome to our first post on the Yancy Camp Nutrition blog! We are so excited to be able to offer a nutrition component of Yancy Camp, as nutrition is such a critical part of the health and performance equation. What better way to kick off our blog series than to start by discussing this important role. After all, we know you all devote a great deal of time and energy to your training; it only makes sense to ensure you’re reaping ALL the benefits of your hard work. 

If you’re working through Yancy Camp for your OCR training (as most of you reading this likely are), you have made a conscious effort to seek out and implement an effective training regimen each day to help you achieve your goals. And because you have your training all laid out for you, you are very likely to succeed. But what about nutrition? Do you put the same kind of effort and attention into the food and meals you eat each day as you do your workouts? This might seem like a strange concept to you, but if you think about it, our encounters with food are far more frequent throughout the day than the time we spend running or lifting heavy objects. If we didn’t have a game plan for our workouts each day and had to come up with them on the spot, we likely wouldn’t accomplish as much as we otherwise could were it all planned out. Similarly with nutrition, our food choices are likely to be poorer when we wait until the last minute to decide what to eat rather than plan ahead. If we compound this cycle of deciding what to eat until the last minute, day after day, week after week, month after month, it is likely to presume our health will take a serious toll. 

So planning out your day (to some extent) nutritionally is important- got it! But what should you focus on specifically and how do you implement it? As an Elite Obstacle Course Racer with more than 6 years of competitive racing under my belt and 9+ years of studying nutrition & dietetics, the combination and implementation of nutrition for health and performance has been a huge focus of mine. But I had to come to terms with a difficult notion, which took some time to learn and accept: eating for health and performance versus solely for health can look very different. This does not mean the two are completely different entities and share no overlap, as this is not the case. However, we are often so quick to implement the latest nutritional research claiming improved health and longevity without considering the repercussions on our physical performance. That being said, if you are seeking a competitive edge in any physical endeavor, there are a few critical nutrition components that may change your outlook on performance nutrition and help take you to the next level:

Calories = Fuel, Fuel = Output. Calorie restriction? Fasting? Low-carb diets? There may be a time and place for these things, but race season (or any time when peak performance is desired) is not one of them. We will discuss nutrient timing later (which is different), but simply put, we cannot ask our bodies for exceptional output if our input is below our needs. If you are a competitive athlete, ideally, over the course of a year, you will have periods of time when you want to peak for certain races or events and other times when you’re further out from competitions when performance is less important. Any weight loss efforts should occur during these non-peak periods of time so as not to interfere with performance outcomes. 

Consider your fuel substrate. The intensity at which we are exercising dictates whether we are utilizing mostly fat or carbs as our primary substrate. Due to the oxygen content, we utilize mostly carbohydrates at higher intensities, especially when we are anaerobic (or “without oxygen”), as the oxygen in the molecular structure of carbs makes up for the lack of oxygen we are getting into our body and to our muscles at higher intensities. Conversely, at lower intensities, we are getting plenty of oxygen to be able to utilize fat as the primary fuel source. With this understanding, it makes sense why a higher intake of carbohydrates is necessary to achieve high intensities. 

Nutrient timing: pre-workout. Understanding your primary fuel substrate during exercise leads us to proper nutrient timing. If we wish to perform a high intensity in our training or competition, it is important to supply our body with sufficient carbohydrates beforehand. Our muscles can store a finite amount of carbohydrates (~400 g), after which we can tap into our liver glycogen (the storage form of carbs; ~100 g) before being completely depleted. Since these stores are rarely “topped off”, it’s important to fuel with carbohydrates beforehand.

Nutrient timing: post-workout. Once we finish a workout, we have depleted our muscle (and potentially our liver) glycogen stores to some capacity, depending on the intensity and duration of our workout. In order to minimize muscle soreness and maximize recovery, replenishing these carbohydrate stores is essential. If you work out earlier in the day, chances are you will consume a sufficient amount of carbs over the course of the day to replenish what was lost. However, consuming some carbohydrates shortly after a workout, particularly a simple, fast-digesting source (eg. a banana, ), enables these key nutrients to get to our muscles much quicker, as our cells are more sensitive (ie. receptive) to carbohydrates during this time. 

Of course, these are only a handful of key nutrition principles to consider when it comes to improving physical performance; however, we will expand upon these further in a later post. In the meantime, we encourage you to take a deeper dive into your own nutrition to see it may be affecting your performance, for better or worse. Our Yancy Camp Nutrition team is committed to helping you achieve the health and fitness goals you’ve set out to accomplish, and would love to hear from you with any questions or comments. As always, we invite you to contact us directly or schedule a consult with one of our dietitians today!


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