Nutrition for athletes and athletic performance go hand in hand, especially for the endurance athlete.
What you eat, when you eat, and how much you eat can determine your level of success.
Proper nutrition can help alleviate digestive issues, muscle fatigue and joint damage that many athletes face. Determining the proper foods and timing of meals, to optimize maximum performance and recovery can be tricky.
HEALTH POINTS TO CONSIDER
- Do not compromise your health in the name of athletic performance. A decision you make today to enhance your performance will have an impact on you the rest of your life.
- You have to eat anyway; you might as well eat the proper foods to provide you optimum health and optimum performance.
- You must have the proper amount of vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates, fats, proteins, water and micro nutrients on a regular basis.
- It’s not just what you eat, it’s also what you don’t eat that will determine how well you perform and recover from an athletic event.
- Listen to your body! Pain that does not lessen in three days, fatigue, brain fog, digestive problems, irregular or lack of menstrual cycles could be signs of a health issue that may require professional help.
- Learn to read food labels. Many foods have added ingredients that you don’t want in your body. Added sugar is a big culprit. If you can’t pronounce an ingredient, don’t eat it!
- Just because a food is labeled “healthy,” “gluten free,” “low carbohydrate” or “low fat,” doesn’t necessarily mean it is good for you. Many foods with these claims have undesired added ingredients to make them taste better. The fewer ingredients on a label, the better. Keep it simple!
ESSENTIALS FOR YOUR KITCHEN (AND WHAT TO TOSS!)
Keeping a variety of these items in your pantry, refrigerator and freezer will ensure that you always have ingredients on hand to prepare healthy, and tasty, meals to fulfill your nutritional needs. All of these items can easily be found at your grocery store.
NUTRITION FOR ATHLETES – HEALTH MUST HAVES
- Assortment of fresh fruits and vegetables. Think outside the box and add some new ones to your diet. Kale, butternut squash, beets and sweet potatoes can add a lot of extra flavor, and nutrients, to your diet.
- Variety of “good” oils. Good ones to have on hand are olive oil, coconut oil, grapeseed oil, avocado oil, and sesame oil. These are great items to use for salad dressings, baking and sautéing
- Variety of flours for baking and breading. Coconut flour, garbanzo bean flower, almond flour and buckwheat flour can be used in most recipes in place of refined, white flour.
- Variety of “good” grains. Examples are whole grain brown rice, organic corn or organic rice pastas, soba noodles, quinoa and grits. If you are gluten free, stay away from whole wheat pastas. Opt for gluten free pasta, such as pastas made from rice or 100% buckwheat.
- All natural nut butters. Check the label and make sure that there are no sugars, hydrogenated oils or preservatives added.
- Assortment of beans and legumes, dried and canned. If using canned, check labels for additional ingredients added, and rinse before using.
- Assortment of vinegar flavors. Experiment with these. They can be a wonderful way to add flavor, without added sugars, preservatives or calories. After all, vinegar is a natural preservative. Organic, raw apple cider vinegar is best. It can help alkalize your body and it gives you a good source of probiotics.
- Raw, local, organic honey (if you are going to eat honey)
- Organic eggs (if you are going to eat eggs)
- Coconut milk and almond milk. Make sure they are the unsweetened varieties.
- Assortment of dried herbs and spices. Stay away from most blends. Again, check the label. These tend to have many undesired added ingredients.
- Assortment of individual, frozen vegetables. These are great for quick meals and also great add ins for soups and stews. Frozen peas and frozen butternut squash are great thrown into a soup for extra flavor and vitamins.
- Stevia – Can be used in place of sugar. Stevia comes in packets, bulk and liquid. Check the label for substitution instructions.
- Raw nuts and seeds
TOSS THESE UNHEALTHY ITEMS
- Refined white flour
- Anything made from white flour (pasta, breads, baked goods, etc.)
- Artificial sweeteners
- Agave nectar-there is a lot of misinformation about Agave nectar being a natural sweetener. It is actually processed, with more fructose than high fructose corn syrup!
- White rice
- Processed foods – Processed foods are basically commercially prepared foods designed for ease of consumption. Examples are ready to eat foods, frozen meals, frozen pizzas, shelf stable products, prepared mixes, (such as cake mix), candies, sodas and potato chips.
- Premade condiments, dressings and marinades. Most of these have sugar and other unpronounceable ingredients.
- Pre-sweetened fruit juices
- Anything containing transfats
- High fat content or processed meat products
FUELING UP FOR GOOD HEALTH
*Important note: Don’t make any dietary changes a week before a major event. Your body will not have had time to adjust to the changes and this could cause undesirable side effects and impact your performance.
Water is an important nutrient for any athlete. Athletes should start any event hydrated and replace as much lost fluid as possible by drinking chilled liquids at frequent intervals during the event. Chilled fluids are absorbed faster and help lower body temperature. During an event, it is more beneficial to drink smaller quantities at frequent intervals than larger amounts infrequently.
The day before an event, drink fluids frequently. Drink 2-3 cups of water at the pre-event meal, 2-2 ½ cups two hours before and 2 cups ½ hour before. If possible, drink ½ cup every 15-20 minutes during the event. If you hear “sloshing” in your stomach, skip the next interval of water. After the event, drink 2 cups for each pound lost. Hydrate frequently the following day. It may take up to 36 hours to completely rehydrate. Don’t over hydrate prior to an event. Drinking two gallons of water, pre-race, will provide no benefit to your performance.
Carbohydrates are essential to proper function of the brain, spinal cord, nerves and muscles. Carbs are converted to glucose to fuel the body. Once the cells have enough glucose, the excess is stored as glycogen. Once the storage areas of the body are filled up with their fair share of glycogen, it is then sent to the liver and converted to triglycerides and eventually stored as fat. This is why it is important to consume enough, and the right types of carbohydrates to meet your energy needs, but not too many.
Great sources of proper carbohydrates are brown rice, organic corn or rice pasta, fruits, vegetables, beans, oats, millet, quinoa and root vegetables. Not great sources are sugar, wheat, white rice and fruits juices. The reason these items are not ideal sources is because they raise insulin levels too quickly. That can provide a very quick burst of energy, but also a very quick crash! Gluten products can be a major enemy to an endurance athlete. Gluten causes excess mucus, which affects breathing and lung function, and digestive issues. Two problems a runner definitely doesn’t want to experience during an event.
Protein is not a great source of fuel, but is essential in building muscle mass. Most people get enough protein in their diets, so consuming the right amount of protein is important. Great sources of protein are nuts, seeds, beans, rice milk, almond milk, hemp milk (all unsweetened), organic eggs, and gluten free grains.
If you are a meat eater, lean cuts of meat can be a great source of protein. The problem is that most meat products are loaded with additional chemicals and steroids. Try to eat organic and limit to 2-3 times a week.
Although dairy is also a great source of protein, like meat, it might be loaded with steroids, chemicals, hormones and antibiotics. So again, if you do consume dairy, make it organic. Like gluten, dairy causes excess mucous production, so it may be advisable to eliminate it all together.
Everyone is familiar with the phrase, “good fats vs. bad fats.” But what does it mean exactly? The best sources of fats are non-processed and plant based. Avoid hydrogenated oils, anything with transfat and most vegetable oils. Oils high in Omega 6 fatty acids can increase inflammation, slow healing and increase pain. Examples of oils high in Omega 6 are peanut, safflower, corn and soy oils.
Good sources of fat are raw nuts and nut butters, olive oil, ground flax seeds, flax oil, avocados, chlorella and spirulina and krill oil.
Caloric and Nutrient Recommendations
For an endurance athlete, that trains and races on a regular basis, it is recommended that you consume 2625 calories a day (approx. 15 calories per pound of body weight). The breakdown is 1050 calories of carbohydrates, 1050 calories of protein and 525 calories of fat.
If you are very active athlete, but don’t routinely participate in endurance events, the recommended amounts would be slightly less. If you are a moderately active athlete, the amounts would be even less. To determine the correct recommendations for you, based on your body weight and level of activity, consult with a doctor or nutritionist. For healthy recipes, get my book, “Eating Right For The Health Of It!”
There you have it… NUTRITION FOR ATHLETES… NOW LET’S GET COOKING!