Remember the saying “you are what you eat”? Well, it’s pretty much true, at least in terms of athletic performance. Nutrition is an essential part of being an athlete. The quantity and type of food you consume can impact your games, practices, energy, and more. Here are some tips to help you make the most out of your meals!T
There are plenty of misconceptions about what an athlete should or shouldn’t eat to maintain (or lose) their weight while simultaneously improving their athletic performance. To be sure, everything should be consumed in moderation, but there are some false claims out there that we should talk about.
1.Carbohydrates (carbs) are bad. Especially if you’re trying to lose weight.
In today’s day and age, low-carb diets, including ketogenic, are heavily encouraged as a method to shave off pounds. (If you don’t know about the ketogenic diet, read about it in here). Here’s the real news: carbohydrate is the main source for generating fuel during exercise. When your carb consumption is inadequate, it means your performance will also be inadequate.
Harvard student-athlete Samantha Acker held a similar misconception but after meeting with a nutritionist, she worked on getting slow-digesting carbs, and says it’s made a big difference.
She says, “I don’t have as many cravings after practice and I feel like I have more energy during long conditioning sets.” Carbs give you sustenance and allow you to play or practice for prolonged periods of time. Depending on the intensity and duration of exercise, you should be fueling up both before and after with carbs. Check out Tables 1 & 2 in this study to find out recommendations based on these 2 factors.
2. You can’t get protein if you’re vegan or vegetarian. And it’s not sustainable as an athlete.
Meat isn’t the only source of protein you can find; it’s just the most talked about. Michigan student-athlete alumni Caroline Anderson is vegan, and also manages to be a record-breaker water polo player with numerous accolades.
She says, “Being vegan is something I believe is very possible for athletes at all levels to do.” Eggs, greek yogurt, Soy products, nuts, beans, legumes and quinoa are all great sources of meatless protein that are found easily and affordable. Another option many athletes take is protein powder. (If you’re interested in purchasing some, use the promo code 219157 for Klean products at this link)
3. You can never have enough water.
I’ve heard the phrase “hydrate or diedrate” a lot. Don’t get me wrong, hydrating before, during, and after is definitely necessary and maybe not emphasized enough. But there’s a danger with excess hydration. If you’re drinking solely water, and drinking too much of it, you’re putting yourself at risk for hyponatremia, a condition where your sodium levels are too low. Hyponatremia includes a list of symptoms that is detrimental to a person’s health and well-being, let alone their athletic performance. So when you’re drinking that water, make sure you’re also replacing the electrolytes you’re losing during exercise.
4. You shouldn’t eat before a practice or game, because it might make you feel sick or bloated.
To an extent, this is true. The amount of time between when you eat and when you practice, as well as the type of food that you’re eating can impact your performance. And of course, every athlete is different; what works for one person may not work for the next. For Duke student-athlete Daichi Matsuda, eating too close to exercise led to him feeling bloated and gave him cramps. He’s found that eating 1 to 1 ½ hours prior to practice or competition is ideal.
5. Snacks are always unhealthy.
“Snacks” is just a name, as is “lunch” or “dinner”; they all can be unhealthy if you choose to make it so. There are definitely ways to snack in a way that you’re benefiting from it, both physically and mentally. Listen to your body—if it’s signaling you for food, grab a small bite to eat. Avoid heavily processed foods and go for the fiber-filled foods to keep you full longer. (Click here for a list of our snack bar recommendations).