Eat to Sleep Better This Race Season

With spring race season right around the corner, most busy athletes are logging extra miles at the track, more hours at the gym, and working out longer and harder to gear up for their first big race. It's a time when sleep—and plenty of it—becomes increasingly important in an athlete's life.

Sleep and Athletic Performance

Besides wreaking havoc on your overall health, a lack of sleep can slow reaction times, impair motor coordination, and deplete endurance. Skimping on sleep robs the body's supply of glycogen—the sugary fuel that powers your muscles during workouts. Your body also does its most effective repair and recovery work while asleep, mending muscles, ligamints and tendons. So, losing out on ZZZs can take a huge bite out of the strength and stamina your body normally builds during the recovery phase of sleep.

More: Why Sleep Is So Important to Athletic Performance

A Lack of Sleep and Weight Gain

Another unwanted side effect of poor sleep: weight gain. Sleep deprivation can trigger the release of gherlin, the hormone that makes you feel hungry, while it turns off leptin, the hormone that signals your brain that you're full.  A lack of sleep can impair your body's ability to use glucose for fuel, which in turn boosts blood sugar and insulin levels, both of which contribute to weight gain.

More: How a Lack of Sleep Can Cause Weight Gain

What's Disrupting Your Sleep?

If you've been tossing and turning at night, several factors could be at play. Stress, unrelenting mind chatter and an unhealthy diet are some of the most common sleep-stealing culprits.

The good news is that you can take steps to reduce stress and quiet your mind, and you can also adjust your diet to help you sleep better. How? Eliminate foods that can rob you of sleep and incorporate foods that help you get more of it.

More: How to Ease Stress, Anxiety and Depression

Sleep-Stealing Foods to Avoid

Consider cutting back, if not eliminating, the following foods and drinks from your diet.

More: Tips and Tricks to Enhance Your Preseason Nutrition Plan

Go Easy on the Coffee: If you've got a 5-cup-a-day habit, but suffer from nightly insomnia, it's time to cut back, or better yet—stop.

We know. Easier said than done. One trick that may help: Brew your morning cup of Joe with half decaf, half regular. After a few days, increase the ratio to 75 percent decaf, 25 percent regular. Do this with every cup you drink throughout the day, until you're on a decaf-only regimen. And if you can't completely give up coffee, stick to one cup a day, and avoid any caffeinated foods or beverages after lunch.

Other sources of caffeine to avoid: soda, energy drinks and some sports drinks all contain caffeine. Read your labels and opt for more water, coconut water and non-caffeinated sports drinks.

More: 4 Ways to Stay Awake Without Coffee

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