5 Pillars of Nutrition for All Athletes
5 Pillars of Nutrition for All Athletes
Regardless of how hard you train, increasing your strength is largely a function of what's in your diet.
Most of the nutritional and diet mistakes athletes make revolve around three meals: breakfast, post-workout, and pre-bed. While these food choices have the largest impact on your athletic performance, there are a variety of other factors that need to be considered as well. Below we break down the top 5 pieces of information all athletes should know in attempting to train to their potential.
1. Eat a Big Breakfast
I’ve heard all of the excuses:
“But I don’t like breakfast…”
“I don’t have time for breakfast…”
“I don’t even know what to eat for breakfast…”
Enough already. If you’re serious about improving your diet and athletic performance then you need to make an effort to eat breakfast. Give the excuses a rest. As an elite athlete what you eat is a part of your overall training program. This means you must see your meals and snacks as fuel and nutrients for your body, instead of as a treat, indulgence, or even a nuisance.
Can’t swing a morning workout with eggs in your stomach? Get up an hour earlier and consume a light snack like a small banana, or half a protein shake. Don’t have the time? Prepare your breakfast the night before. Don’t “like” breakfast foods? Well, then pick something appropriate that you do like and have that instead.
It’s called the most important meal of the day for a reason. After your 6-8 hours of sleep (or more) you have to break-the-fast that your body has gone through while sleeping. By not doing so, you’re leaving your body no choice but to begin breaking down muscle protein to fuel itself (a catabolic state). Yeah… Not a good place to be if you’re trying to add strength and size.
2. Take Your Post Workout Nutrition Seriously
Now before I begin, it’s worth noting that this concept is as important as any other aspect of your training and nutrition plan. When you exercise your muscles are like sponges being squeezed of their energy stores. After you’re done training (or practicing) you have about a 2 hour window where your muscles are at their most ready state for reabsorbing nutrients. Consuming a proper post workout shake, snack, or meal will improve your recovery from hard training and aid in muscle rebuilding (which is where gains in strength and size come from). Not taking advantage of this window could be interfering with your body’s ability to “bounce back,” leaving you unprepared for the next training session.
3. Opt for 5-6 Smaller Meals A Day
The idea of 3 meals a day is fine if you’re only awake for 8 or 9 hours a day. But if you’re a normal human being and don’t sleep for 16 hours, you should be eat more frequently, i.e. a combination of 5-6 meals and snacks throughout the day. A daily rollercoaster diet of a high calorie intake followed by 4-6 hours of zero calories isn’t good for a number of reasons.
Think of your body as a factory assembly line. Everything works smoothly and efficiently when all the parts (nutrients, water) are readily available. When something runs low or gets used up the entire system slows down. The factory (your body) may not completely shut down, but certain parts of the system (endurance, strength, focus) may become limited and therefore impact your performance. Eating a snack, meal, or drinking a meal replacement shake every 2-3 hours will ensure your body has the nutrients it needs to keep your blood sugar and energy levels normal, allowing it to function at optimal efficiency.
4. Pay Attention to Your Pre-Bed Nutrition
If you’re serious about your athletic perfformance, you can’t ignore the hours between dinner and bedtime as this is another great opportunity to use nutrition to make great physical gains. Now this is not a full, sit down meal. Instead it should be a simple snack made up of slow digesting protein (casein) and very few carbohydrates.
Casein can ward off late night hunger cravings and help prevent the muscle protein breakdown that can occur during the night when the body enters a fasting state (again, per point 1, catabolism). Cottage cheese or a casein protein shake are some good options to help you retain muscle mass and lock in strength gains while asleep.
5. LAY OFF THE FAST FOOD!
Where do I begin? A Mcdonalds indulgence every now and then is completely normal, but unfortunately in today’s society, daily fast food meals are now considered normal as well. While many fast food establishments like Subway and Taco Bell now offer healthier versions of their menu items, homemade or unprocessed foods are almost always the better option. And let’s be serious, the chances of you choosing those healthier menu options as opposed to processed meat and processed food is probably slim to none anyway.
Even if you don’t go with a burger and fried food, the “healthy” menu optionsare loaded with more sodium, fat, and calories than a homemade version. In instances in which your only option is fast food, look for words like grilled, broiled, boiled, and baked. Additionally, always ask for condiments, sauces, dressings, and toppings on the side, and that included dry toast instead of pre-buttered. Last but not least, don’t be afraid to order off the menu or ask for something prepared (or presented) different; a burger without the bun, or a half order instead of the regular… But whatever you do, please stay away from the fried stuff!
If you take nothing else from this article remember this: PLAN & PREPARE your meals and snacks in advance. Doing these simple things will eliminate the majority of bad eating habits and poor eating choices made on a daily basis. Being an elite level athlete requires more than just showing up and participating at practice each day. It means making a dedicated, and calculated, effort to your total lifestyle, which in large part includes adhering to a healthy diet and nutrition.ShareThis
About the Author
Veronica Dyer, CSCS is the Director of Strength & Conditioning for Olympic Sports at Syracuse University and is responsible for working with volleyball, women’s lacrosse, women’s soccer, swimming and diving, tennis, and softball teams. Before that, Dyer served as an assistant strength and conditioning coach at Northwest Missouri State University and was a graduate assistant in the Syracuse strength and conditioning department for three years as well. As an undergrad, Dyer was a member of the Syracuse track and field team from 1995-2000 and was honored with the Lucille Verhulst Sportswoman of the Year award in 2000. After school she placed third in the 100-meter hurdles at the Canadian Olympic Trials in 2000 and was also a member of the Canadian National Team at the 2001 World University Games in Beijing, China.
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