Nutrition: Fuel the Machine
As athletes, we tend to put our bodies through a lot of stress, constantly breaking it down, and as a result we have different nutritional needs than the general population. This means we have to consume more calories, proteins, carbohydrates, fluids and vitamins/minerals in order to rebuild ourselves stronger than before. The following will provide a brief outline of the basic macronutrients that every diet consist of and then a brief explanation of how to best combine these components for optimal results will be put forth.
The Keys to Eating Well:Balance- Proper portions of complex carbohydrate, protein, fats
Moderation- “never say never, or you'll crave it forever”
Variety- Eat a variety of foods to stave off binges and keep things fresh
Carbohydrate aka Glycogen: The gasoline to fuel our Maserati. 50%-70% of diet
Glycogen. Glycogen is a fancy word for the energy that is stored within our muscles. When we consume foods our blood sugar initially rises. This increase in blood sugar signals for our pancreas to turn on and release insulin which is the hormone responsible for converting blood sugar to muscle glycogen, or energy. Directly following a workout our muscles are starved of glycogen and as a starving person is more susceptible to take in more food, our muscles are more prone to take in/store glycogen. This is why it is important for athletes to refuel their carbohydrate stores within 60 minutes after a hard workout when the muscles are hungry, hungry, hungry. Good examples of healthy-carbohydrates are: bread, rice, oats, potatoes, pasta, cereal, fruits, vegetables, and honey.
Proteins: The building blocks 5%-10% daily caloric intake
Proteins help to rebuild and repair body tissues. Protein is not an immediate fuel source and consuming too much protein can actually be dangerous. If consuming animal protein it is best to make sure it is lean. If one does not like to eat animal protein you may get adequate protein from dairy products or combining beans/lentils, nuts, with a whole grain to make a complete protein (all 9 essential amino acids necessary for muscle rebuilding). You do not need to eat copious amounts of protein as an athlete. Your body is efficiently designed to store adequate amounts of proteins and uses them only for vital bodily processes. All excess protein is secreted. At meal time, eating protein foods with carbohydrate helps to stabilize blood sugar and minimize cravings because protein takes longer for the digestive system to break down.
Fats: Essential to Life 20%-30% daily caloric intake
Fats often get a bad spiel but they are the most essential nutrient to life. Among being our major fuel source for light to moderate exercise, our bodies also use fat to protect vital organs, insulate our nerves, transport fat-soluble vitamins, make sex hormones, and maintain healthy cell membranes.*(Sally Bowman, Longhorn Sports Nutrition, 2008) It is important however to try and consume unsaturated fats compared to saturated fats. Unsaturated fats are easier for the body to digest and increase the level of our good cholesterol, while saturated fats can cause arterial clots and increase bad cholesterol. Some examples of unsaturated fats include: nuts, vegetable oils, canola oil, olive oil, sunflower oil, avocado, flaxseed, walnuts, salmon, trout. Saturated fats are solid at room temperature and are usually found in animal fat, butter, lard, and ice cream. It is alright to eat saturated fats, just try to limit the total amount to a minimal. Try to avoid TRANS FAT at all cost. Trans fat is made in a lab by adding an additional hydrogen bond to a polyunsaturated fat. Our bodies cannot break down this fat and it drastically raises cholesterol levels, leading to adverse health effects. Look at nutrition labels, if you see the words “partially-hydrogenated” then the product contains trans fat and should be avoided.
How often should I eat?Everyone is different and it is going to take some experimentation to figure out what is optimal for you. The recommendations are 3-6 times a day which does not mean 3-6 full on meals but snacking so that you are never fully-stuffed or on the brink of eating the whole cow.
What are some recommendations for a snacky-snack?
Items that include a little carbohydrate and protein:
What are some recommendations for a healthier dessert? (remember moderation is key)
My family tends to eat out a lot. Do you have any tips for healthy restaurant eating?
-Restaurants are notorious for serving portion sizes that could feed villages. Some strategies to limit portion size include sharing a plate with a friend, order a lunch or appetizer plate, or decide when you get the food “I am going to eat this much” and get a to-go box for the rest. -When out dining it is important to SLOW DOWN. Enjoy the presence of your friends/family and take in the atmosphere of the restaurant. This gives your body time to give you the signals it is filling up rather than going past the point of having that “stuffed” feeling. -Ask for the dressing for your salad to be put onto the side. This rule goes for any sauce toppings. -Try to avoid “fried”, “crispy” or “golden”. This implies the food has been battered in fats and fried.