For athletes, determining our nutrition needs can be tough. With so much information available to us, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and confused by mixed messages. In addition, everyone has unique nutrition needs, so one diet does not fit all.
As athletes, we want to fuel our bodies in the best way possible for optimal performance, especially leading up to a big competition. So what advice is the best to follow? Here are my top tips when it comes to nutrition for athletes.
General Nutrition Guide
- Eat as close to the source as you can. If it took more than one step to get from its source to your plate, skip it. So eat fresh fruits and vegetables over canned ones, and unprocessed grains, like rice, barley and quinoa, over bread, pasta and baked goods. Trade the protein bars for a handful of nuts or whole, fresh fruit.
- Eat the rainbow! Make your plate as colorful as possible with a variety of fruits and veggies. Include lots of oranges and yellows, like carrots and butternut squash, purples, like purple cabbage and blueberries, and reds, like apples and strawberries.
- At every meal, try to balance your plate. Always include a protein, a complex carb and vegetables at every meal. You can play around with the portion sizes of each item according to your training needs, but in general, do this for 80% of your meals. Also, try to vary your protein, carbohydrate and vegetable choices. A variety ensures that you’re covering as many bases as possible! So sub chicken for some fatty fish like salmon once a week. Instead of eating rice as your carb source, try another grain, like barley, faro or buckwheat.
Bonus tip: 80/20 rule. Sticking to perfect nutrition is impossible. So keep it wholesome and healthy 80% of the time and reserve the other 20% for fun foods!
Other Tips to Follow
Now that we’ve covered some nutrition basics, here are some other tips:
- Eat for performance. Being deficient in certain nutrients vitamins or minerals will affect your performance. Getting bloodwork done is a good way to see where you might be lacking, then you can adjust the way you eat to address those deficiencies. For example, if your iron level is low, eating red meat, beets and dark leafy greens can help. Low levels of iron contribute to fatigue.
- Eat at the right time. Get the best out of your food by fueling at the right times. For example, snack on some fruit before a sprint workout. After strength training, try to have a protein-packed meal within an hour.
- Eat enough vs. too much. It’s easy to get bogged down with how many calories you should eat, and many sources will encourage you to stick to some maximum daily number, but our needs will vary from day to day and based on the intensity of our workouts. In addition, counting calories can push you to fall out of tune with your body’s cues. Listen to your body: eat when hungry and stop when full.
These are just some very basic guidelines. Nutrition for performance at an elite level can get much more complex and should be personalized, so it is best to discuss it with your nutritionist.
Here are two of my favorite food and nutrition podcasts: