By Alex Kelly
What You Need To Know: Lets keep things simple. This is not a special diet with very specific do’s and don’ts. Rather, here are 5 basic nutrition principles for athletes to keep in mind when fueling the body for optimal performance.
- Eat Real Food
First of all, what exactly is real food? I once had a coach explain it to me this way: “If you can kill it, grow it, or pick it from the earth – that is real food. If you have to read a label and open a package, then that is not real food, it was made.” Shy away from processed foods with lots of ingredients and chemical compounds in them. Your body will thank you in the long run. Stick to the perimeter of the grocery store where there is the majority of the real food. Notice most of the food in the aisles of grocery stores are all processed.
Too many diets of young athletes are overloaded with processed foods. Artificial sugar is a compound in nearly everything these days. If there is one thing you can take away from this article and try to apply in real life it would be to eliminate artificial sugar from your diet. Yes, that includes sodas!
- Peri-Workout Timing
What you consume before, during, and after your practice is critical for getting the most out of your body. Having a light snack before practice filled with quality protein and carbohydrates can do wonders (something as simple as a banana and peanut butter). I once had a coach explain it to me like this:
“Think of your body like a car. If you get in your car and the gas tank is empty, you will not make it very far. It’s the same thing with your body. If you are not eating enough throughout the day, you will be running on empty and your energy levels and performance will suffer. Try to keep your gas tank full throughout your day, especially when it comes time for practice when you will need that fuel for energy.”
Too often I ask one of our athletes what they had for lunch today and they respond, “A sandwich and a bag of chips.” What about to drink? “A Dr. Pepper.” Are you kidding me!? Did they eat anything before practice? Usually not. No wonder they have zero energy after 30 minutes of practice. Their bodies are running on empty!
Lets realize you have the second half of the day to get through, which usually includes a few more classes, and some sort of practice or training. “Well that is all they had at school today for lunch,” the athlete says. Pack your own lunch with high quality foods that way you can crush the rest of your day.
During practice and training it is important to stay hydrated. Water is good, but does not always replenish what you have lost if the workout is long and demanding. If you can sip on a drink with lots of BCAA’s (branch chain amino acids) you will keep your energy levels going and finish your practice strong.
Post workout is an important time to fuel your body with high quality protein to help your muscles recover. Also this is a time where consuming simple sugars like that in a sports drink or chocolate milk will help restore your depleted glycogen stores and replenish your muscles to help them recover faster. Recovering quickly and being ready to perform at a high level again is critical for an athlete’s success.
- Eat Complete Meals
Complete meals meaning you are consuming a good portion of protein, carbs, and fats. To keep things simple, when you sit down to eat make sure you have a lean protein source, veggies (you can never over eat on veggies), and a healthy carb source. Most young athletes do not eat enough vegetables. They are not always the most flavorful foods to consume but find a way to get them in. Use a blender and make a smoothie full of veggies and fruits if you have to.
Some healthy protein sources include: chicken, turkey, lean beef, fish, eggs, milk, cheese, yogurt, beans. Some good choices for carbs include: whole foods like fresh fruit and vegetables, nuts and oats, wheat bread, rice, potatoes, sweet potatoes. Healthy fats include: avocados, cheese, dark chocolate, nuts and seeds, olive oil, peanut butter.
- Eat Breakfast
Often referred to as the most important meal of the day, consuming a healthy breakfast is critical for athletes to get the day going. First things first, have a couple glasses of water to rehydrate and wake up your body.
Remember, we don’t want to start our day on empty. You just woke up from hopefully 7-8 hours of sleep where you consumed nothing, so something is better than nothing. Some good examples would be eggs and bacon with some whole wheat toast, or yogurt and granola. Stay away from processed foods like cereal and drinks full of sugar like orange juice.
- Eat MORE!
Too many young athletes simply do not eat enough. Early morning workouts, a full day of school, followed by practice and extra training in the evening result in a ton of energy being used all day long.
Most athletes are looking to get bigger, faster, stronger and build muscle. In order to do so, we must fuel our bodies properly. Shoot to get in at least five meals a day. Here is an example comparison of what an ideal day looks like versus a poor one.
|Meal||Ideal Choice||Poor Choice|
|Breakfast||Eggs, bacon, toast, water||None|
|Mid-Morning Snack||Yogurt and granola||None|
|Lunch||Chicken/Turkey, spinach salad, fruit, almonds, water||Sandwich, bag of chips, soda|
|Pre-Practice Snack||PB&J, banana||Candy Bar|
|Post-Practice Snack||Protein Shake, or Gatorade/Chocolate Milk||Nothing or just water|
|Dinner||Lean beef, asparagus, sweet potato||Frozen Pizza, Chicken Nuggets, Soda|
Athletes demand a lot from their bodies. Fueling it properly is essential to get the most out of your body. If you own a Ferrari, are you going to fill it up with the cheap gas, or the premium gas?
Treat your body like it’s a Ferrari. Fuel up with high quality foods that are going to help you achieve your goals.