I cringe when I hear athletes talk about loading up on carbs and protein. For the most part, the kind of carbs and protein they're talking about are just empty calories loaded with fat (and not the good kind). Choose complex carbs and lean proteins, skip heavy sauces and the baked goods (pancakes, muffins, pound cake, etc... these are sometimes food for athletes as much as they are for everyone else!), opt for whole grains instead of pasta, and forget anything that has ingredients you can't read altogether. (Think athletes in ancient times. Pure simple food!)
Staying fit as an athlete requires you to eat more than the average person in order to maintain enough energy to compete or simply get through a workout. That doesn't mean you can eat just anything. Like everyone else, your health is largely affected by what you eat. And like everyone else the cleaner your diet, the healthier your organs, including your lungs, which allow you deeper longer breathing, resulting in a more powerful workout. Additionally, different activities require different diets and feeding times.
YOGA - better to salute the sun first thing in the morning and on and empty stomach. Empty stomach?!?! Yep... don't freak out! Just think about it. Imagine backbends, forward bends and twists when you've had breakfast? These postures have everything to do with the digestive tract, which means that if you're fully loaded (even lightly), you won't be happy because any flexibility you have will be altered immensely. Eat 30 minutes to 1 hour after getting off the mat. Drink water first, not during, but after and prior to eating your first meal of the day. (if you are doing yoga in the evening, be sure not to eat for 3 hours prior). I recommend drinking tea (minus the cream and sugar) prior to getting on the mat to give you just enough of a boost to get you calm and focused.
Note: I recommend yoga for ALL athletes to help extend muscles, pre and post workout, as many sports tend to shorten muscles. Can you reach your feet? A 15 to 30 minute routine can be extremely helpful. It will also help you breathe better and more deeply and therefore improve performance.
MARTIAL ARTS - Qi Gong or Tai Chi Chuan is best practiced first thing in the morning and on an empty stomach. I also recommend tea prior to your practice. Meanwhile, more physically intense martial arts such as Tae Kwon Do, Kung Fu, Aikido, and other world martial arts requiring flipping, kicking, and hitting—in general exerting a different kind and more intense energy—would require a light bite, perhaps an apple or banana prior to getting on the mat. However, these also require flexibility, and anytime you are dealing with flexibility, the digestive tract is involved and unobstructed room is definitely needed to breathe deeply and more effectively so you can move more swiftly. Drink water after practice and before eating 30 minutes to 1 hour after practice.
CYCLING | SPINNING | RUNNING | ROWING | CARDIO WORKOUT | WEIGHT LIFTING - depending on how long your workout is, and how intense it is, whether you are competing or not, eating is essential to getting through it. BUT, don't start loading up on simple carbs and fat, sugar and salt, in general. These types of foods will not only sit heavily in your belly, slowing you down before you get started, but defeat the purpose of staying fit. Instead of pancakes, croissants, or any sugar-loaded, fat-loaded baked goods or breakfast meats, go for the following (good for all athletes or anyone):
1) daily oatmeal (high in fiber)
2) daily fresh fruit including bananas (complex carbs)
3) daily fresh vegetables (all kinds including root vegetables including beets, sweet potatoes, yams, carrots, etc...— high in fiber)
3) daily eggs — poached best, the yolk being that much more nutritious when raw then when cooked, but eggs any style will do
4) multigrain bread (if you can make your own or buy from a bakery, even better; avoid those brands that include preservatives)
5) daily avocado — 22 nutrients and loaded with protein and good fat; it's a no brainer
6) daily tea — for sustained energy (without dairy and sweetener), instead of coffee (quick up and down).
7) homemade power/protein bars - If you can't make your own power bars, skip them altogether, and opt for pitted dates instead.
8) Water — drink lots of it, adding a pinch of salt (necessary for maintaining your balance and avoiding blackouts when exerting so much energy)
9) raw pure coconut water — electrolytes and 4x more potassium than bananas
Remember this formula: 1/3 food, 1/3 water, 1/3 air... meaning eat until satisfied not full. You need breathing room for your digestive system to work efficiently.
Maintain a healthy diet free of packaged/processed foods. Fresh is best, load up on vegetables and fruit, lean meats, wild caught seafood, whole grains and complex carbs.
Following these basic guidelines will increase your metabolism, help you maintain a healthy weight, and improve your overall health and therefore performance because you will have that much more CLEAN sustained energy to carry you through your goal.