If the saying “you are what you eat” holds true, then for athletes, fueling up with high energy foods that can help them sustain a high octane performance can help them go the extra mile. However, high-energy should also mean healthy, which should always be the center of an athlete’s conditioning and training regimen. Here are healthy foods that pack a performance punch that athletes should always include in their diet:
Protein technically does not provide a lot of fuel to energize your body. However, it greatly contributes to the maintenance of your muscles which is crucial for athletes since their body experiences a lot of wear and tear. Recent studies showed that it also helps ward off heart disease and weight gain. Normally, per kilogram of body weight, a person would need 1.4 grams of protein. For athletes, the requirement may be 1.7 grams or more, depending on the intensity of their sports and training. Nevertheless, it is important to eat high quality protein in the form of lean meats, egg whites, fish, poultry, nuts and beans. Milk, which has whey protein, is particularly helpful for athletes. Whey protein is quickly absorbed by the body, which speeds up the recovery period of the muscles. Its calcium content also helps maintain stronger bones. Many nutritionists who advocate high-protein diets advise eating Greek yogurt, which is low in fat, sugar, sodium, carbohydrates but is packed with protein from whey. A six ounce serving of Greek yoghurt could yield as much as three ounces of protein as lean meat. Lack of protein, especially after a grueling performance or training session, can result in sore muscles and can even cause some athletes to have cramps.
“Fat” seems like a word that clearly does not belong on the same sentence as “athlete.” However, this refers to the good kind of fat, Omega-3, which can be obtained from fish like salmon, especially the Wild Alaskan salmon, tuna, sardines and mackerel. Omega-3 fatty acids cannot be produced by the body, which means it has to be taken from food, are essential to tame inflammation and promote muscle recovery. This makes it particularly helpful for athletes. Omega-3 has also been linked to other health benefits like protection from heart ailments, certain cancers and autoimmune diseases.
Many people who exercise and want to lose weight, shun carbohydrates. But for athletes, carbohydrates is a must. After all, it is the body’s main source of fuel. Carbohydrates are converted by the body into glucose which is then stored in the muscles as glycogen. During physical activity, the body taps into this glycogen storage and converts it to energy. So, for athletes, it is essential that they have a high amount glycogen stored in order to go the distance. In general, people who exercise for less than 90 minutes have sufficient glycogen stored in their body. On the other hand, athletes frequently exceed 90 minutes when it comes to training and actual sports activity, so it is important that they load up on carbohydrates. Not any carbohydrate source will do, however. Athletes should get their carbohydrate needs from vegetables like carrots, fruits, whole wheat breads, beans and cereals. They should stay away from carbohydrate sources that have high amounts of sugar and starch, since instead of being stored by the body, it just passes through the bloodstream and may even lead to extra calories. These types of carbohydrates may also lead to dehydration.
Athletes can obtain a lot of vitamins and minerals from the protein and carbohydrate-rich foods that they eat. However, one particular vitamin is key to warding off strains and injuries—Vitamin D. Vitamin D promotes increased muscle mass and strong bones. However, some athletes are unaware of the sources of Vitamin D or even its advantages. The best source of Vitamin D is exposure to sunlight, around 30 minutes a day, especially in the morning when the sun’s rays are not too hot. If sunlight exposure is not possible, Vitamin D supplements can be taken. The United States Figure Skating Association dietary guidelines advocate taking 200 IUs of Vitamin D supplements a day.
Although not technically food, water is essential for athletes. The benefits of water is immense. It keeps athletes hydrated, cleanses toxins from the body, lubricates joints and regulates body temperature. It also transports nutrients. Insufficient water intake often results in dehydration that leads to cramps, dizziness and fatigue. Despite the popularity of sports drinks, athletes should always drink an ample amount of water before, during and after exercise. The American Council on exercise recommends drinking eight ounces of water 20 to 30 minutes during warm-up exercises, seven to 10 ounces during every 20 minutes of exercise and eight ounces 30 minutes after the physical activity. Athletes, depending on their intense training, can increase the amount of water they drink.
Just like fats, chocolate milk definitely seems like an odd choice for healthy food habits for athletes. It does sound more like a dessert choice rather than a dietary recommendation. But believe it or not, there is some science to drinking chocolate milk. You have to consider that after intense sports participation or training, athletes need recovery food within 30 to 60 minutes. Otherwise, they may be prone to injuries and lose a significant amount of nutrients and muscle. Athletes also need to replenish the lost energy. This is where a quick pick me up like chocolate milk comes in. However, not just any chocolate milk will do. It should have a ratio of four grams of carbohydrates to a gram of protein, according to the author, who is also a kinesiology professor, of numerous research papers on sports recovery drinks. The drink helps the body recover its glycogen supply and stimulates muscle growth and repair. But how do you get the 4:1 carbohydrate and protein ratio? If you’re not sure about chocolate milk math, you can try another flavored option. Take an eight-ounce glass of milk, this usually has 12 grams of carbohydrates and eight grams of protein, and blend it with a small banana which typically has 20 grams of carbs, then add cocoa powder. Thirty-two grams of carbs to eight grams of protein, 4:1 ratio.
While developing healthy food habits are essential in an athlete’s ability to reach peak performance, the bottom line is that they should always look out for their health, and eating healthy foods is one of the best ways to do that.