With Spring upon us and National Nutrition Month coming to a close, I wanted address the myth that athlete’s can just eat whatever they want when it comes to diet. “MyPlate doesn’t apply to me…I burn through so many calories, can’t I eat anything I want?” While it’s true that athletes have a lot more leniency when it comes to discretionary calories, MyPlate is still an important guideline to help athletes stay fueled, repair their body and maintain that competitive edge. Here are my tips for athletes on how they can make MyPlate work for them:
- Pile on the fruits and vegetables – Yes, fruits and vegetables are important for everyone, but even more so for the day-to-day athlete. Repeated exercise breaks down the body via oxidation and inflammation. The answer to help clean up the system is antioxidant-packed fruits and vegetables. No other portion of MyPlate can provide the vitamins, minerals and antioxidants necessary to restore the body after a tough workout.
- Expand the size of your plate -While most people can get away with the guidance of using a 9 inch plate to helpmaintain portion control, that is unlikely to be sufficient for an athlete. The amount of calories an athlete needs to sustain training and muscle repair is highly variable, but most athletes exercising at least 6o minutes a day will need to expand the size of their plates while keeping the five food groups in check.
- Carbs rule the world – Hopefully it’s no surprise to athletes that their primary fuel needs to be carbohydrates. Simple carbohydrates provide quick energy while complex carbohydrates can sustain athletes for longer workouts. While a detailed, individualized training plan will have periods of increased (during training) and/or decreased (during race prep) carbohydrate intake, most athletes can fill up the grains, fruits, vegetables and dairy portions of their MyPlate to meet their requirements.
- Protein for muscle repair – Again, the literal wear and tear that exercise puts on an athlete’s body makes the protein portion of MyPlate essential. Athletes do typically need some extra protein compared to the average joe, so strive to pack protein into snacks, leverage protein from dairy selections and even eek out some extra in protein-filled carbs and vegetables like quinoa, whole grains and soybeans.
- Plan snacks around pre-fuel and post-workout recovery – To maximize a workout, it’s important to be deliberate about the timing of meals snacks. Frankly, athletes need think of meals and snacks as pre-fuel and post-workout recovery tools. Pre-fuel meals and snacks need to focus on hydration and carbohydrates to sustain the workout. Post-workout meals and snacks need to have a mix of carbohydrates and protein to replenish glycogen and repair muscle. Great recovery snacks include smoothies, chocolate milk, yogurt, a peanut butter sandwich, nuts and dried fruit and/orcheese and whole fruit.
- Don’t forget oil and fats – Depending on your training regimen, it might be difficult to meet daily calorie requirements. No big deal right? Wrong! Calorie deficits lead to muscle breakdown, fatigue and impaired performance. The easiest way to make up discretionary calories is by adding oils and fats to your diet. Athletes can help meet their caloric needs by adding oils to pasta and salads and eating foods rich in healthy unsaturated fats. Focusing on omega-3 fatty acids from ground flax seed, walnuts, salmon, grass-fed beef, soybeans and chia seeds will also provide extra calories that have anti-inflammation affects.
If you are an athlete reading this post, I hope I have at least conveyed that you need to take your diet seriously. You need to think of food as your fuel and recovery prescription. MyPlate is a wonderful tool to guide athletes to eat for performance and frankly Eat2Win!
Need additional inspiration? Here are some “performance-enhancing” meals from the pros and Outside Magazine – 11 Athletes Share their Favorite Meals.
Have a favorite pre-workout or recovery meal that you would like to share? Need help finding a nutrition plan that meets your Spring training needs? Let me know and we can work together to build a fuel plan tailored just for you and your upcoming training season.
So I guess if I had to label myself I would say I’m a part-time registered dietitian, wife and mom of one beautiful daughter with another one on the way. I could also add daughter, sister, aunt, house manager and all-around-Ms-Fix-It. Whether you are a WAHM, SAHM or traditional working mom, one thing is undoubtably common to us all – we are all beyond busy and could use a break when it comes to meal planning and feeding our family. Thus I wanted to dedicate a blog during National Nutrition Month (NNM) to busy moms that included some useful tips to make mealtime a little more like “a day at the beach” and a little less like “Grand Central Station”. Here are some of my tips to help busy moms feed their family healthy MyPlate meals, help fuel their day and set a good example for their children.
- DO plan your meals and shopping in advance. I’m an uber planner, but I totally get if you are not. I’m generally not going to push my calendar-driven, iPhone-managed, list-making life on you; however, if you want to eat healthy and feed your family healthy meals, you have to plan in advance. This means having a plan when you go to the grocery store. At the very least you need to know what meals you are going to make that week and what ingredients you need to pull that off. I use an iPhone app to track my grocery list, but yours might be paper or even just mental. It’s key that you know what you are doing ahead of time so you can prep between phone calls or when the baby is napping instead of staring into your refrigerator or freezer right before dinner and praying for inspiration.
- DO take healthy short-cuts. I love to make my own baby food, pasta sauce and even bread, but let’s be real, that is not happening for every meal, 7 days a week. I take short-cuts, but I try to make them as well-informed as possible. I buy jarred pasta sauce (I like Newman’s Own Organic Tomato Basil Sauce and if I have time I add in fresh mushrooms, bell peppers and olives). I buy frozen vegetables so I always have broccoli, peas, sweet potatoes and mixed vegetables on hand. I even buy some processed foods like turkey meatballs, falafel and breaded chicken breasts that I can keep in the freezer. All you have to do is take the time to read the ingredient list and find ones that are minimally processed, lower in sodium and generally have ingredients you recognize as food. Take the time to do it once, find your “brand” and then it’s automatic.
- DO cook in batches. I make lasagna, chili, pasta and enchiladas like I’m feeding an army. Buy yourself some freezer-safe glassware or disposal aluminum trays and make at least double the quantity so you have enough left over to pack in kid’s lunches, have for lunch or dinner the next day and most importantly, freeze you so you just pull something out of the freezer when you are rushed or plain exhausted. You’ll want to label it with a name, freeze date and maybe some quick re-heat instructions. You might also want to keep an inventory list by your fridge so you know what you have in your downstairs freezer and you can take fully advantage of your precious emergency stash.
- DO dust off your slow cooker and make casseroles your friend. When I was single, I may have been know to turn my nose up at a slow cooker and casserole, but we have been reacquainted and are now official “besties” in my busy-mom-working-married life. Casseroles are great because you can prep them ahead of time, freeze them for later and toss in lot of vegetables to feed your family healthy. Slow cookers are great for many of the same reasons and they let you make large batches and develop hearty flavors while the meal simmers all day. There are so many books and websites dedicated to just casserole and slow cooker recipes including MyPlate on Pintrest. I urge you to experiment and find your family’s next favorite dishes.
- DO come up with your family’s staples meals – Have a few staple meals that you can always turn to when you have put off grocery shopping for an extra few days or just come back from vacation. These are staples because you always have the ingredients on hand and they are generally not perishable or have a long shelf life. This can be tuna, veggie and cheese macaroni because you have veggies in the freezer and a pouch of tuna and box of macaroni and cheese in the pantry. It could also be chicken parmesan since you have frozen, breaded chicken breast and marina sauce that you can serve over pasta or maybe quinoa. Along with your staples meals goes a staple shopping list. Again, it can be mental, but something you can print out every week or two works well. You can post it on your frig, cross off the items as you run out and throw it in your purse to reference as you run through the grocery.
- DO keep healthy snacks on hand…and maybe even in the car – Errands are going to run long or your kids are going to be famished when they get home from school or you pick them up from the bus stop. Again, be prepared. Have fresh fruit, dried fruit, nuts, whole wheat crackers, yogurt, Wholly Guacamole snack packs, hummus, cheese sticks, Kind bars or easy to grab veggies like baby carrots and cherry tomatoes on hand at all times. Don’t forget to treat yourself to 2-3 snacks a day to keep your energy level going and your metabolism revved.
- DON’T be afraid to get everyone involved in the kitchen. When your kids are old enough, get them involved in meal planning, shopping and even food prep and cooking. Have them select the veggie of the night. Have them come up with an idea for “Try it Tuesday”. Have them peel potatoes, toss the salad or set the table.
- DO make it a priority to sit down as a family – I know this is a hard one with crazy work schedules and sports practices, but it’s critical that you pick a few meals a week to sit down as a family. It doesn’t always have to be dinner. Find a time that works for your family and have everyone commit to making it a priority. If it’s not a priority, I guarantee it will be overcome by events. This is important so you can prepare a meal as a family, sit down at a table and talk about your day. Your family is invested in the meal, they see you eat healthy, home cooked meals and they follow suit.
- DO KISS – And like this last point, Keep it Simple Silly ;-). Find recipes with 5 ingredient or less or take 10-20 minutes to prep.
Here are some quick and healthy Busy Mom MyPlate recipes and ideas that you can try out on your family:
You don’t have to be a gourmet chef to feed your family healthy meals, but you do have to plan ahead, make it a family priority and find a groove that works for your family.
Are you a busy mom who strives to feed their family healthy meals? Share your favorite time-saving tip or favorite family recipe to inspire the rest of us.
Happy National Nutrition Month (NNM)! I wanted to kick of my blogs this month by discussing something near and dear to my heart, how to eat healthy as a Mexican-American – which I am. Growing up in Corpus Christi, Texas I had access to flavorful food that evolved from the mingling of Mexican dishes given a Texas-flare and simply called “Tex-Mex”. The spices are plentiful, the meat is abundant, and the portions are well, Texas-sized. So when I moved to Northern Virginia and started to reevaluate my eating habits, I realized I needed to revamp how I ate as a Mexican-American if I wanted to stay healthy. Here are a few dos and don’ts that I adopted to help me enjoy the flavors of my heritage while keeping my waistline and health status in check:
- DO fill half your plate with the wide variety of fresh fruits and vegetables that are native to Texas and Mexico including tomatoes, tomatillos, lettuce, onion, bell peppers, chili peppers, squash, cactus, potatoes, sweet potatoes, peas, corn, jicama, avocados, bananas, strawberries, melon, oranges, mangos and papaya.
- DO watch your portion-sizes. Everything is bigger in Texas. So much so, you hardly notice how big your plates and portions are while dining out. MyPlate is a great way to keep these things in check. First it helps you limit protein and grains each to 1/4 of your plate, leaving you room to pile on your fruits and veggies on the other half. Most people just need 3-4 ounces of protein (about the size of your palm). This includes beef, chicken, pork, fish, beans and eggs. It helps to think of the protein as more of a “supporting actor” and not the star of the show. Finally, consider leaner protein options including poultry, fish and beans.
- DO opt for healthier fats and cooking methods while cooking. I’m not going to lie, I grew up on food cooked with lard and bacon grease. Today, I typically cook with olive and canola oil which have higher amounts of poly- and monounsaturated hearty-healthy fats (liquid at room temperature) versus the artery-clogging saturated fats found in lard and animal fats (typically solid at room temperature). I also bake things like tortillas for chips and chalupas instead of frying. I sauté chicken, fish and vegetables with a little oil which absorbs much less fat versus deep-frying.
- DO take advantage of the zest, spice and flavors of Tex-Mex cooking by a using lime juice, garlic, cumin, chili pepper, cilantro and onion in your cooking.
- DO cut out the sugar-sweetened beverages. While not Tex-Mex specific, their use is certainly rampant in my home town and the size of these beverages is astonishing. Almost every fast-food chain and restaurant lets you treat yourself to unlimited beverages. What I did not realized until after college is how that was affecting my blood sugar, mood and frankly ,waistline. A Big Gulp – and that is the small one these days – has 350-400 calories and 90-100 g of sugar depending on how much ice you take. I would rather eat my calories and make them nutrient-dense.
- DON’T overdo the carbohydrates. Only a 1/4 of your plate should be grains and mostly whole grains at that. For most people this means one slice of bread, 1/2 cup of cooked rice, 1 small (6 inch) flour or corn tortilla OR 1/2 cup of cooked pasta. As Mexican-Americans, we tend to overdo this area of our plate. We have to choose between the rice and the tortilla and limit ourselves to one, not the typical two to three tacos that come with most meals.
- DON’T overdo the dining out. In Texas, it takes a lot of discipline to maintain a healthy MyPlate while eating out. You should probably only eat 1/2 to 1/3 of what your are served at some Texas restaurants to keep proper portions (take the rest home for tomorrow’s lunch). Also, you don’t know how the food is prepared so it’s likely to be full of unhealthy fats and salt that you can better control when cooking at home.
- DON’T derail your healthy plate with calorie-dense condiments like full-fat sour cream, salad dressing, mayonnaise and/or shredded or melted cheese.
Here are some healthy Mexican-American MyPlate dishes and recipes you can try:
- Taco salad – Baked flour tortilla bowl filled with beans or lean ground meat and topped with shredded spinach, tomato and avocado
- Turkey chili – Lean ground turkey, with beans, corn, bell peppers, onions and a small cornbread muffin
- Chicken fajita or grilled fish tacos – Flour or corn tortilla filled with grilled chicken or fish, jicama, bell pepper and pineapple salsa
- Beef carnita tacos
- Baked bean or chicken chalupas – Baked corn tortilla, beans or chicken, shredded spinach, tomato and mango salsa
- Breakfast burrito – Tortilla, egg, beans, salsa and grapefruit slices on the side
- Cilantro-lime chicken with avocado salsa
- Southwestern vegetable and chicken soup
- Chiles rellenos with chicken
- Chicken with quick mole sauce
- Mexican polenta pie
- Two-bean enchilada casserole
Look for additional inspiration by browsing MyPlate Recipes on Pintrest.
I got a bit of a hankering after writing this post that I had baked taco salad with grilled chicken for dinner last night
I hope this first NNM post helps other Tex-Mex lovers see that they don’t have to sacrifice their favorite flavors when eating healthy. With a few modification and tweaks you can still Eat Your Way, Every Day, the Tex-Mex Way! Let me know any healthy twists you have made on your Tex-Mex favorites!