Let’s talk about food as the F word — FUEL. Whether you're riding on a post-Olympics inspired fitness resolution yourself, or trying to figure out how best to feed your back-to-school sports player, athletes have special food needs.
Similar to a high performance vehicle, the type of gas makes a difference – regular or premium fuel will dictate the results. Think of it this way: a car will run on regular gas, but not necessarily at its maximum highest level. Your body is similar, you need to have the best fuel possible for the best results.
Since athletes burn so many calories when they play, common knowledge has often said that sheer calories are enough to get you through the big game. The message from many sports coaches and trainers has always been bigger is better, just eat food and lots of it. But sadly there is a difference between KFC and quinoa even for marathon runners or Olympic athletes.
Studies have repeatedly shown that the right diet, proper eating habits, and eating the correct amount of meals per day accomplish the following:
- Improves stamina
- Optimize recovery after practice and games
- Repairs damaged muscle tissue
- Maximize performance goals, with additional endurance
But how to do you eat right for athletics? An easy way to visualize the ideal meal - each meal should look like a peace sign, with one-third of the plate as protein such as red meat, poultry, fish, eggs, cheese, milk, yogurt, dried beans, nuts, soy products, one-third as a starch such as brown rice, pasta, potato and the final third should be fruits and vegetables.
Carbs are key
- football, baseball, tennis and other quick energy explode sports are stop-and-go with short bursts of intense effort followed by rest. Therefore, the primary fuel for these sports is carbs. Carbohydrates are basically sugars and starch. Once digested, they breakdown into glucose modules and are used for fuel or stored as reserved energy lasting about 12-14 hours.
But all carbs are not created equal. Focus on good carbs — with the McDonald’s Olympics sponsorship aside, do not include French fries or white bread. These foods convert starch to blood sugar nearly as fast as pure table sugar, creating rapid spikes in your level of blood sugar and energy levels. Complex carbohydrates break down slowly causing a lower and slower change to blood sugar.
Carbs also frequently come hand in hand with fat. Which, while delicious and not always bad, is not recommended for athletes. Too much fat in an athletes diet causes a few problems:
- Does not supply the fuel needed to build muscles
- Causes stomach cramping and indigestion.
- Slows you down with slow release of energy
Here are some tips for carb loading without overdoing the fat. Choosing one over the other makes a difference.
• Bagels over doughnuts
• Mashed potatoes over fries
• Grilled chicken over fried chicken
• Frozen yogurt over ice cream.
• Replace cupcakes with a piece of fruit.
• Nuts instead of cheese doodles
• Boneless all white meat chicken wings over bone-in chicken with hot sauce
Pre-game meals are an important fueling component before a game. The best strategy is to choose lower-fat foods. Fats take longer to digest, so high-fat meals can leave the athlete with a full, heavy stomach and not enough energy to perform at his best.
Pre-game breakfast ideas:
Minimize higher fat items such as fried meats, fried potatoes, bacon, and sausage
Eggs, egg whites omelets and frittatas
Carbohydrates such as bread, cereal, bagels, waffles and toast.
Fruits are a simple carb with complex results
Afternoon/evening pre-game meals for most athletes:
• Turkey or ham subs on whole wheat, fruit salad, frozen yogurt
• Eggs, waffles, ham, fruit, roasted potatoes, toast, bagels with peanut butter
• Pasta with red meat sauce, grilled chicken, salad, and fruit
• Smoothies, cereal, fruit if you don’t like to eat heavy before a game
• For beverages - serve low sugar sports drinks, juices, and water
Post-game meals are also an important:
Start by refueling with fluids and carbohydrates in the form of sports drinks, pretzels, sports bars, or fruit immediately.
The post-game meal may be a higher-fat option, such as breaded chicken, steak, or a cheesesteak hoagie. This is usually the hungriest time for the players, especially those who don’t eat much before games.
Some good options include:
Steak kebabs with rice
Salmon with green beans and corn
Roast beef with mashed potatoes and salad, or even burgers
To make the most of an athlete’s talents, make nutrition a priority. Smart food choices lead to success on and off the field.