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.