Balanced Meal Plan - Enhance your Sleep
You should always take proper food and rest to allow your body to recover faster. You need a balanced meal plan for one that enhance sleep and recovery.
Do you want to recover better? Then sleep better. And eat better.
Table of contents
· Nutrition -> Sleep -> Proper recovery -> Optimal athletic performance
· Effects of proper nutrition on sleep quality
· Carbohydrates vs. Proteins
· Foods that help you sleep better
· The secret power of the Mediterranean diet
· Tips on sleep and recovery for endurance athletes
Do you know that feeling when pushing yourself over the limit helped you win that race you have always dreamed of winning? If yes, then you are probably doing the right job! If not, then maybe the next few paragraphs could help you out in reaching your goals.
A common mistake athletes usually make is underestimating the power of the recovery. The consequence of not respecting the recovery time and program could result in overtraining syndrome. So, do not let this happen as it could take you back to the starting line. You need a well-planned balanced meal plan for one packed with foods that enhance sleep and recovery. Recovery and sleep lay the foundation for peak athletic performance!
Nutrition -> Sleep -> Proper recovery -> Optimal athletic performance
As you can already imagine, there is much more going on out there than just these two steps. Here are some basics.
Recovery can be:
Active – usually includes stretching or low-intensity aerobic training.
Passive – it consists of rest days and sleep.
Nutrition and sleep are two crucial factors for good athletic performance and recovery. Rest is a vital process for our existence, and it allows us to restore our physical and mental strength. Poor sleep quality will negatively affect your performance and recovery. It can also induce an alteration of glucose metabolism, protein synthesis, and increased risk of injury during the workout. The amount of sleep you need for optimal recovery is subjective. It depends on many different factors, from genetics, environmental stimuli, emotional stimuli, exercise intensity, et cetera.
There are two basic types of sleep, divided into progressive cycles:
1. Non-REM sleep, also known as the deep sleep, is divided into three stages that express the progressive deepening of sleep. This cycle predominates in the first part of the night. Deep non-REM sleep is crucial for physical recovery. You may have noticed that fitness watches control your activity during sleep to give you readings about deep sleep and light sleep hours. If you have one, note that around 20% of your sleep time should be non-REM sleep.
2. REM (Rapid Eye Movement) is characterized by rapid eye movements and the absence of muscle activity. This cycle is essential for your brain and mental health.
During deep sleep, your body goes into an energy-saving mode. Your heart rate, temperature, and blood pressure drop, respiratory and metabolic activity get reduced too. Your muscle recovery initiates through protein synthesis and the release of human growth hormones by the pituitary gland. As the blood supply available for your muscles increases, they will receive more nutrients for a full recovery. For your body to achieve its maximum recovery during sleep, you will need a proper endurance training nutrition plan. The fundamental concept of a winning nutritional plan consists of meeting one’s energy needs by providing nutritious meals at the right time. Therefore, a balanced diet associated with an adequate lifestyle is the basis for quality sleep and optimal recovery. It will facilitate the initiation and maintenance of sleep, at the same time speeding up muscle recovery.
Effects of proper nutrition on sleep quality
Numerous studies reported associations between proper nutrition and sleep quality. An appropriate nutrition plan with specific food for endurance athletes is as essential as sleep hygiene and hard training. Here are two interesting studies that can help you in understanding better this beneficial correlation.
1. One cross-sectional study (analyzes data from a population at a specific point in time) found that a high intake of confectionary food and noodles was associated with poor sleep quality. Researchers used a self-report questionnaire, Japanese female workers had to fulfill, called the Pittsburg Sleep Quality Index, to determine sleep quality. A high intake of foods like fish, fruit, and vegetables was associated with good sleep quality. The higher was the intake of carbohydrates, and the lower was the sleep quality index. It is important to underline that the quality of carbohydrates is more important than the quantity. They also confirmed that sweetened beverages and energy drinks are something you should avoid before bedtime.
2. The second cross-sectional study showed that low protein intake was associated with poor quality of sleep. It was also associated with low melatonin levels, therefore, difficulty in initiating sleep. On the other side, researches linked high protein intake with difficulty maintaining sleep.
From these two reports, you can easily conclude that you will undoubtedly have difficulties preparing a marathon training meal plan without nutrition professionals’ help.
Carbohydrates vs. Proteins
Recent research studies have confirmed the positive impact carbohydrates have on sleep quality and athletic performance, but what about the recovery? Well, proteins are more important for the recovery phase. But what is more important is to know the exact amounts and types of carbohydrates and proteins you should consume to improve your results. The results will not come only from training hard. Nutrition will help you enhance recovery, and only optimal recovery will give you the expected results.
An interesting study compared a high protein diet, a high carbohydrate diet, and a control diet to investigate their effect on adults’ sleep quality. Researchers monitored the sleep of the participants continuously. Participants on the high-protein diet had fewer wake episodes than the control group. The length of time it takes to accomplish the transition between full wakefulness and sleep was significantly lower after high carbohydrate intake than after the control regimen.
The low availability of amino acids at night is associated with a reduction in protein synthesis rate. Researchers found that endurance athletes can easily digest and absorb 40 g of proteins taken 30 minutes before sleep. Absorption of this amount of proteins led to an increased availability of amino acids necessary for recovery during sleep. It supports the theory that a high protein meal is a better option before bedtime, promoting skeletal muscle adaptive response to endurance training. A higher protein intake before sleep did not affect metabolism or appetite during breakfast the next day. In the long term, this method positively affected the increase in muscle strength and mass.
On the other hand, carbohydrates seem to be useful for sleep initiation. Still, a high carbohydrate diet can have multiple adverse effects if consumed unproperly. It tends to lower the deep sleep, a crucial stage of sleep for physical recovery. Researchers have not found the exact mechanism that causes these sleep quality changes. Still, a higher serotonin synthesis could probably be the reason.
Foods that help you sleep better
Foods that help to enhance sleep are numerous, so you will not have to give up on tasty meals and mouth-watering flavors. These are all foods rich in vitamins, minerals, bioflavonoids, and amino acids. For example, foods for endurance athletes should be rich in tryptophan, an essential amino acid. It is the precursor of two sleep-related neurotransmitters – serotonin and melatonin. Melatonin controls the sleep-wake cycle. Serotonin, also known as the happiness hormone, is responsible for wakefulness (like cortisol) amongst its many other vital roles. But we need to underline that serotonin’s role in sleep is still a scientific controversy.
Foods rich in tryptophan are:
· Meat and fish
· Beans, chickpeas, lentils, peas
· Hazelnuts, almonds, peanuts
· Whole grains
· Banana, avocado, pineapple
· Tart cherries
Let’s see what studies say about some of these foods.
· Tart cherries Tart cherries are the perfect choice for a good night’s sleep. Sour cherries are one of the most potent sources of antioxidants. Regular intake of tart cherries can help your body recover faster, as they reduce exercise-induced muscle damage and flush out muscle lactic acid. According to this paper, the consumption of this fruit can significantly enhance sleep quality and time. The main active ingredient in tart cherry juice is procyanidin B-2, which reduces inflammation and increases tryptophan activity.
· Fatty Fish Regular consumption of fish is associated with better sleep quality. Types that promote sleep are the fatty ones, such as tuna, anchovies, trout, and salmon, containing many Omega-3 fatty acids. It is preferable to consume small fish types to reduce the risk of heavy metals accumulation in your body. Heavy metals can disrupt different metabolic processes and sometimes irreversibly damage the tissues.
· Kiwi According to a study, people who eat two kiwis an hour before going to bed for four consecutive weeks have a 35% better chance to initiate the sleep cycle without difficulties. Kiwi is rich in antioxidants like vitamins C and E, but it also contains serotonin. Therefore, regular consumption of kiwi can help regulate circadian rhythm, and consequently, enhance recovery. Optimal levels of serotonin in your body will ensure quality sleep, recovery, and a good mood.
· Night-time milk or Malted milk Drinking milk before going to bed will make you fall asleep in no time. We are sure you have already heard that statement before. Scientists believe that this sleep-promoting effect has psychological associations (breastfeeding) and because milk contains high tryptophan levels. Melatonin reaches its highest concentrations at night. Recent studies found that milk collected during the night is exceptionally rich in tryptophan, making the Night milk particularly beneficial for sleep quality.
Malted milk consumption showed similar positive results on sleep quality as Night milk.
· Nuts Both walnuts and almonds are rich in magnesium, vitamins, Omega-3 fatty acids, and other essential substances crucial for better sleep and overall health. In particular, both walnuts and almonds contain high magnesium levels, an essential mineral that supports cognitive functions, maintains concentration, and prevents muscle cramps. Research from the University of Texas has also shown that walnuts’ consumption can raise melatonin levels and improve sleep quality.
The secret power of the Mediterranean diet
So what is the secret of the Mediterranean diet, one of the most popular diets in the world? Equilibrium! It has everything your body needs to function and maintain its overall health. The Mediterranean diet gained its popularity based on many studies’ surprising research results that confirm its crucial role in preventing cardiovascular disease, obesity, et cetera. In 2010, UNESCO included the Mediterranean diet on the list of humanity’s intangible cultural heritage shared by Cyprus, Croatia, Spain, Greece, Italy, Morocco, and Portugal. Based on the daily consumption of foods like fruit, vegetables, fish, legumes, and whole grains. The main condiment is extra virgin olive oil, often called the “liquid gold,” for its unending health benefits. It is low in red meat, saturated fats, and sugar. Packed with antioxidants, foods from the Mediterranean diet are the ideal ally against free radicals. By reducing oxidative stress after exercise, you protect your muscles and other tissues from oxidative damage. Oxidative stress can initiate various processes that could lead to disease, but it can also cause poor sleep quality. This diet contains the right food for endurance athletes, as its benefits are multiple. As it is rich in nutrients, especially in those that promote a correct sleep-wake balance, this diet is perfect for all who need to enhance sleep quality. It influences sleep cycles directly and indirectly. Directly, because it is rich in bioactive compounds that induce the synthesis of sleep-inducing neurotransmitters. Indirectly, it improves the sleep cycle by improving weight status, promotes mental health, and prevents many chronic and acute diseases.
Tips on sleep and recovery for endurance athletes
Small changes in lifestyle can also promote sleep quality and enhance recovery. When combined with specific nutritional support, it makes a winning combination for endurance athletes’ success. Eating habits are essential for a proper sleep-wake cycle.
Here are some healthy sleep habits every endurance athlete should know about and put into practice:
· It would be best if you tried going to bed every night at the same time. But also getting up at the same time each morning, weekends included, will give positive results.
· Make sure you sleep in a quiet bedroom, with no lights on, and at a comfortable temperature.
. Regular exposure to natural light should also be a part of your sleep hygiene.
. If you have sleep problems, you can try the bright light therapy. A treatment used to treat sleep disorders and other conditions like depression, jet lag, and even dementia.
· Remove all electronic devices from your bedroom.
· Combine passive and active rest, get massages, hot and cold tubs, do stone stepping, and work hard on your rest.
· Avoid eating large meals. Something like the famous proverb: “Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like a pauper.”
· Also, avoid foods requiring super long digestion times, as they can completely ruin your sleep quality.
· Avoid stress, as high cortisol levels can negatively influence circadian rhythm.
· Prefer foods rich in magnesium and B vitamins, as they promote muscle relaxation.
· Prefer simple cooking methods without adding fat: steamed, grilled, baked, in foil. You can use healthy fats like extra virgin olive oil but in limited amounts.
· Avoid stimulants such as energy drinks, caffeinated tea, and coffee hours before going to sleep.
· That said, always follow your nutritionist’s instructions and be consistent, do your best to achieve your dreams and goals.