Top 10 Nutritional Issues for Athletes
1. Healthy Eating
- Good nutrition means eating a variety of foods. Many people get stuck in a routine of eating the same five to ten staple foods over and over again: pasta, bananas, bagels, chicken, carrot sticks and lettuce salad. But we need to mix things up a little.
- Remember the 80-20 rule: Eat well at least 80 percent of the time but leave some room for soul nourishment and pure pleasure. If you're going to ingest foods or drinks that offer little nutritional value -such as coffee, beer, jelly beans, pop, sugary cakes and so on, make the indulgence worthwhile. If the food offers no nutritional value at least aim to get maximum psychological pleasure out of it.
2. Energy Management
- Eat 3 meals a day with the largest portion being vegetables or fruit but also ensure you add some lean protein. A minimum of 3 of the 4 food groups is ideal. This ensures you get adequate protein and enough carbohydrate to fuel your muscles and brain.
- Eat 2 or 3 healthy snacks each day. Don't allow more than 4 hours to pass in a day without eating.
- Stay well hydrated: Drink water with all meals and snacks, anything sweet or salty and in a 1:1 ratio with caffeine, alcohol or pop. You'll know you are well hydrated when you go pee every 1-2 hours during the day and your urine is clear or pale in colour.
- Drink before, during and after exercise
4. Pre-exercise Eating
- Eat a "smart" dinner the night before – lots of vegetables, grains and some lean protein – for example – vegetable-tofu stir fry over brown rice, vegetable-laden sauce with 3-4 oz chicken or lean meat over pasta, bean and vegetable soup with whole grain bread, fish, vegetables and brown rice.
- Have a high carbohydrate evening snack to top up muscle glycogen stores, especially if you can't eat breakfast. Some examples include: fruit, a bagel with jam, popcorn or cinnamon toast.
- The morning of: Aim for a breakfast with mostly carbohydrate but also a bit of protein for staying power. Keep this meal low in fat and moderate in fibre. The more time you have between eating and exercise, the larger the quantity you can eat.
- Focus on rehydration – drink at least another 2-4 cups of water
- Eat or drink carbohydrate foods within the first 30 minutes of finishing a hard workout or activity – e.g. fruit, vegetables, yogurt, a bagel, cereal and milk or a typical lunch meal. Continue to eat every 2 – 4 hours.
- If you drink caffeine, alcohol or pop, drink extra water.
6. Eating on the Road
- Fast food is still, for the most part, much too high in fat, very high in sodium and often served in gargantuan portions. Instead, look for meals with large portions of vegetables or fruit.
- Pack high quality, healthy snacks to take with you on the road. Don't use a trip as an excuse to blow your healthy eating plan.
7. Weight Management
- Do not obsess about weight!
- Pay attention to hunger and satiety cues – tune into meal volume, timing and spacing
- Don't approach every meal like it's your last opportunity ever to eat. Rate your fullness on a scale of 1-10 where 1 is starving and 10 is over full. Try to stop at level 5. This is the point where you feel psychologically and physiologically satisfied, but not stuffed.
- Supplements are not replacements for food, don't be fooled by advertising "hype"
- Sport drinks, bars and gels have a role to play. Realize, though that they are generally designed for use during prolonged exercise. The main benefit of sport drinks is that their flavours, bright colours and jazzy packaging remind athletes to drink more fluids when exercising.
- As a vegetarian, you need to replace the meat portion of your diet with a variety of healthy meat alternatives such as beans, lentils, chickpeas, tofu and other soy products, nuts, nut butters, seeds, and eggs, dairy and fish (if you eat them)
- If you eliminate dairy products as well, you need to consider calcium and vitamin D, and when you eliminate all foods of animal origin, vitamin B12 also needs special attention.
10. Food Safety and Quality Concerns
- Although organic food may not necessarily offer higher nutritional value, certified organic foods will reduce your intake of pesticides and other chemicals. In this regard, extra cost is still worth it.
- Organic or not, washing of all produce is still critical to minimizing food poisoning.
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