10 Tips for an Athletic Diet
Many of us are athletes without even knowing it. Whether we compete in a sport, are crossfit addicts or simply love to go for a daily run, it’s important to know what to eat to support our athletic body.
1. Eat Breakfast
When we wake up our blood sugar is super low, and we need some fuel to get our bodies (and brains) going. It’s best to eat about 1.5-2 hours before a workout; stick to complex carbs and minimal proteins and fats. If eating almost 2 hours before working out is too difficult, try making a green smoothie for a vitamin, mineral and carb-packed breakfast. It’s easy to digest, which means it won’t tax your energy and will nourish your cells.
2. Eat Immediately After Working Out
It’s important to eat 15-30 minutes after working out as this saturates glycogen stores (the stored version of glucose/energy). Eating after a workout aids in muscle recovery and helps prevent soreness. Eat something that is a simple carbohydrate mixed with some protein: dates and nuts or a fruit smoothie with protein powder are both great options.
3. Always Hydrate
Hydration is key. It’s really important not just to hydrate with water during and after the workout, but also to constantly hydrate throughout the day; this helps prevent dehydration during the work out. When we start to feel thirsty, it's our body's way of signaling that we are already dehydrated. We also want to hydrate with electrolyte drinks that will replenish our electrolytes that were lost while sweating. Try to stay away from super sugary energy drinks and find natural more wholesome brands.
4. Plan Ahead
This tip applies to everyone, but especially to athletes: We need to plan our snacks, meals and drinks ahead of time. Without making a clear plan of when to buy groceries, when to prepare meals and when to actually eat them, many of us are left grabbing choices that are low in nutrition and detrimental to the athletic body. Eating often and eating well helps to prevent blood sugar from crashing, keeps hormones balanced and helps maintain a strong immune system.
5. Load Up on Anti-Inflammatory Foods
Working out can cause a lot of inflammation in the body. We need to reduce added stress and inflammation in the body to increase recovery time and prevent soreness. While training, load up on anti-inflammatory foods like turmeric, ginger, garlic, dark leafy greens and omega 3’s found in flax oil, fish oil and salmon.
6. Think Quality of Calories over Quantity
The quality of our calories is way more important than the quantity. We need to eat foods that provide “high-net-gain” according to Brendan Brazier, triathlete and author of the Thrive Diet. He says, “simply eating more calories will not necessarily ensure more energy for the consumer.” This is because of the digestive energy required to convert this high caloric, non-nutritious food into usable energy. We need to shift from refined and processed carbs to whole foods such as fruit, vegetables and whole grains.
7. Avoid Common Allergens
Many of us don’t even realize when we are sensitive to certain food items. By eliminating common allergens, we may notice major positive shifts in our breathing, focus, digestion, energy and even movement. Try to stay away from heavy dairy, soy, corn and even gluten if you are ready to take that leap!
8. Increase Antioxidants
Intense training can create free radical damage in the body, this is a natural process of working out. It’s important that our bodies are equipped with antioxidants to combat free radicals and prevent any serious issues. Eating a diet that is rich in colourful fruits and vegetables will have you covered on the antioxidant front.Consuming lots of antioxidants will also help maintain a strong immune system.
9. Don’t be Afraid of Carbs
For many athletes, carb loading is a natural part of the training process. When we are training, our bodies need adequate fuel to power us through. One of the best fuels comes from complex carbohydrates, because they provide slow absorbing glucose with a mix of fiber. The glucose works to nourish our cells and stores as energy for later. The fiber cleans the body and removes excess waste. The best complex carbs include starchy veggies like sweet potatoes, carrots, squash, beets and whole grains like quinoa, millet and brown rice.
10. Eat for Sleep
Sleeping is necessary for all of us to function properly, but it is especially necessary for athletes. Without proper sleep our mental and physical performance falls short. During sleep our body repairs and regenerates itself. To get that deep, restful sleep we need to reduce the elevated cortisol levels in our bodies. We do this by eating foods like avocados, dark leafy greens, colourful fruits. Avoid the refined stuff!
Tamara Green is Chief Nutritionist and Natural Cook with The Living Kitchen Wellness Group in Toronto.
by Tamara Green