I work with all kinds of athletes — from little leaguers to college folks and pros. A fitness fanatic myself, I know that busy schedules and demanding workouts make it tough for athletes to get the nutrition they need. Student athletes often have the most trouble when it comes to figuring out what to eat and when — and those team-supplied orange slices probably won’t do the trick. Here are some nutrition tips and foods to remember.
Sports Nutrition Basics
The specific nutrient needs of athletes varies tremendously from person to person, but there are some general things to keep in mind:
Food is fuel
Athletes should eat throughout the day to keep energy levels high — aim to eat something every 3 to 4 hours.
Breakfast is a must
This first meal gets the metabolism going and sets up energy levels for the rest of the day. For many student athletes, breakfast is the one meal that they have control over. Always have something, even if it’s just a granola bar on the bus or a piece of fruit on the way into class (yes, you do have time for that).
Get all those major nutrients
The body uses carbohydrates and fat for energy and protein for healthy and strong muscles; get a balance of all 3 every day.
What you drink is as important as what you eat — not getting enough fluid can lead to fatigue and injury (just like not getting enough food can, too). Read our tips for getting fluids from more than just water.
Before a workout, practice or game, make sure that you’ve eaten something that will give you energy but is light enough to digest before your activity begins (otherwise it will slow you down). The key nutrient here is healthy carbohydrates, which offer quickly digestible energy. Here are some simple snacks that can be thrown into a gym bag or backpack — munch on them 1 to 2 hours before exercise.
- A piece of fresh fruit (apples, bananas and oranges travel well)
- Granola bar* (see note below)
- A few handfuls of dry whole-grain cereal
- 1/2 bagel or handful of pretzels
When you’re done exercising, the body needs a combo of carbohydrates to replenish energy stores and protein to help tired muscles recover. For best results, eat these foods in within 30 to 60 minutes after activity. Alternatively, if you’re a soccer mom (or dad!), try bringing this along to share with the team post-game and skip the run to the ice cream or hot dog stand.
- Chocolate milk (get handy boxes — no refrigeration required!)
- Trail mix of nuts, dried, fruit and cereal or pretzels
- 1/2 peanut butter and jelly OR a turkey and cheese sandwich
- Meal of lean protein, whole grains and veggies such as grilled chicken or fish, brown rice and steamed broccoli