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Strategic Eating Options for Athletes

person kneeling preparing to run on an outdoor track

Upon interviewing various nutritionists, registered sports dietitians, and elite athletes, I have found that there is a strategic way to eat to maximize potential for individual sports. My notes, observation, and my own professional experiences as a former elite athlete have lead me to believe in this theory. Below you will find see my conclusions regarding strategic eating for athletes:

In the world of athletics, there are several factors that contribute to the players’ needs. For example, most athletes sweat profusely throughout a game. Additionally, some sports like hockey, soccer, and lacrosse require players to think and move quickly, demonstrate a high level of agility, and endure various physical movements at very intense speeds. Believe it or not, there are strategic foods and shakes that can be eaten to fuel these exact needs for performance and recovery.

Because of the intense movements in the sport, hydration is of upmost importance. Before a workout (game or practice), players should be hydrated via water or a natural and organic powder mix that is complimented with vitamins, electrolytes and water/coconut water so they can keep their bodies hydrated and fueled. This allows players to play at a high performance levels with the ability to recover fast.

A good way to see if you are hydrated is to talk to your registered sports dietitian or registered dietitian professional.

Sports drinks can be OK too; however, in my experience as a player, water has always served me best. Caffeine and sugary drinks should be a hard no as they deplete energy while they take effect.

Due to the quick movements and bursts of high intensity intervals, athletes need to focus on their ability to recover quickly. The foods that lend themselves to aiding this are those that have the primary job of providing good calories to burn (energy). This energy can be found in protein, fat, and carbs (which will make up most of your diet).

When it comes to protein, an athlete must remember that they need to consume the recommended amount of protein per body pound daily via their professional registered dietician.

Proteins contain amino acids which are the foundation of the ability to recover. Because of this, athletes should incorporate lean proteins into every single meal. This can include lean meats, cottage cheese, eggs, or beans. Fattier proteins can negate some of the great effects of the proteins themselves, so sticking to lean is important. While fats can be damaging in large quantities, they are not the enemy for athletes. In fact, good fats should be incorporated. There is not a set amount of fat that a player should have unless they are looking to lose or gain weight. Good fats include nuts, avocado, oils, etc…

As aforementioned, carbs are going to be the focus of the athlete’s meal plan. Like fats and proteins, there are types of carbs that are better than others. A good rule of thumb is to go for grainy breads rather than white breads or brown rice over white rice. The white carbs are much harder to process. In addition, good carbs can include dairy (such as milk) and fruit/vegetables. When it comes to fruit and vegetables, around 5 servings a day is necessary to obtain the correct vitamins and minerals needed.

Carbs and protein should be the focus of a pre-game or pre-practice meal and should be eaten about 3 hours beforehand. The effects of healthy carbs and proteins will last and do their jobs despite the fact that your stomach does not feel overly full after 3 hours. When recovering, go for something that is carb-heavy.

Athletes are constantly on the go, a great tip to get these nutrients in is with a great shake! A clean shake is one that is chemical free and natural. It is a good and healthy choice. They is especially helpful for obtaining the correct amount of protein.