A Healthy Diet For Athletes

As athletes, we hear about healthy diets and how important it is, but it can be confusing what diet is the best because of all the trendy diets that we see all over social media. In this article, I will be sharing with you some information I have learned about what a healthy diet consists of, and I believe all athletes can benefit from this article. I hope you enjoy it!!

Disclaimer: I do not support or condone unhealthy eating habits. Eating healthy is usually not about how much food you consume but what type of foods you eat. If you’re hungry, don’t limit yourself, eat something healthy that provides energy, and you will be fine. Please make healthy choices and talk to a doctor if you’re having any issues with eating.

Protein

Proteins are large molecules that play many critical roles in the body; they help us recover from intense training and/or injuries, so they are essential for rebuilding and repairing tissue and muscles. They also give you a lot of energy; this is because they take much longer to break down in the body, therefore lasting much longer than carbohydrates.

List of some foods that contain protein:

  • Eggs are one of the highest quality proteins we can eat and are very common/one of the least expensive sources of protein.
  • Chicken is another inexpensive source of protein and one of the higher quality sources as far as completeness when it comes to protein. Chicken thighs are less expensive than chicken breasts, and they are very high in nutrients and have more calories per serving because of their higher fat content. Many suggest buying organic, but it can be hard to find quality organic chicken that justifies the cost, as long as its not fast food, it should do the trick.
  • Beef is the next protein I recommend. Do your best to buy grass-fed beef even if the price is a little more; investing in higher quality beef is worthwhile for taste and nutrients. It’s roughly $7 a pound for high-quality grass-fed beef. This includes ground meat, steak, roast, and many other cuts. Reminder, steaks cost more in stores. So while this cost is more upfront, long term, it saves you money.

Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates or “Carbs” provide the energy needed to perform at a high level because our body treats them as the “first choice” in fuel consumption for optimal performance. Carbs give you a quick boost of energy but don’t last very long, unlike protein.

If you don’t consume the appropriate amount of healthy carbs, you risk compromising your overall performance.

 Foods that contain carbs:

The most cost-efficient carb sources will come from potatoes (regular and sweet), rice, oats, vegetables, and fruits. Farmers’ markets are the place to go for the freshest fruits and veggies, but if you can’t access that on a regular basis, just go to your local grocery store, and whatever they have will be fine.

Food you should avoid:

Stay away from processed foods like chips, cookies, and highly-processed carbs like fake cheeses and fruit juices, ice cream, soda, and candy. They serve no purpose in an athlete’s diet. Having one piece of chocolate or one cookie after dinner is okay if you’re craving it, which will prevent you from limiting yourself so much that you snap and binge a lot of unhealthy food all at once, which is much worse.

Fats

Humans need fats to be healthy; They serve many important functions, and some fats are required for survival. Fats serve as the basis of many hormones and cell-to-cell communication.

If an athlete does not get enough fat over a long enough of a period, it will have a devastating effect on their hormone production and can lead to a lifetime’s worth of issues.

Foods that contain Fats:

The good news is that if you are trying to gain weight, fats are a great way to add calories to your diet from nuts, nut butters, olive and coconut oils, avocados, fish, and natural cheeses.

Suggested Meal Plan

BEFORE WORKOUT: 1-2 hours pre-activity

  • Eat 30-60 g’s of carbohydrates.
  • 20-30g of protein
  • For carbs, choose ones that are low in fiber and fat to prevent issues with nausea, stress, or bloating before activity.
  • Due to fats long digestion time, It’s recommended to limit excess fat before and during activity to avoid nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, feeling of being bloated and sluggish.

WHILE WORKING OUT:

  • If you are exercising 45-60 minutes or less, then carbohydrates are not super necessary.
  • If you exercise greater than 60 minutes, include some sports drink like Gatorade, Powerade, or Body Armor, and drink a lot of water, of course.
  • Eating carbs during long activities is essential to maintain your energy levels and keep performance at a high level.

POST WORKOUT: 60-90 mins after

  • 30-90gs of carbs
  • 20-40gs of protein
  • 7-15g of fat
  • After a workout, your muscles become fatigued. To recover for your next activity, refueling with carbohydrates and protein is essential.
  • Remember to balance protein with some type of carbohydrate as carbs help to replenish your muscles energy, and protein helps build and repair the muscles that broke down during activity.
  • Including some healthy fats after your activity is beneficial to provide sufficient calories for recovery and promote a healthy inflammatory process.

How much?

I don’t believe in having young athletes count macros. It creates an unhealthy relationship with food. I believe in keeping things simple.

Eat 4-5 small meals a day. I want to teach you about the importance of eating. What each macro does and why they are important.

Every meal should have lean protein, fruits or vegetables, quality carbohydrates, and healthy fat. If you have a high activity day, eat more high-quality carbs, if you have a low activity day, a little less quality carbs, but more fruits and vegetables is best.

If you need more food, start by adding more carbs and/or fat to each meal. If you need less food, take out some carbs from a meal or two. I’ve found that if you are eating small meals every few hours and practicing healthy eating habits, you are likely meeting your needs for all macros. As far as timing goes, I wouldn’t get too caught up in it. Ensuring you are fueled for practice/training/games is important, though.

Final Thoughts

I’m not a nutritionist; I’m just an athlete trying to help you to the best of my ability. If your doctor or nutritionist suggests a different diet, then listen to them.

As athletes, we love to eat, but what we need to understand is that food is our fuel for performance and a catalyst for our recovery. A good analogy that I learned for this is that our bodies are like a Lamborghini that requires premium fuel. Failing to load up on premium fuel will result in suboptimal performance.

I hope this article was helpful to you. If you enjoyed reading this article and would like to be notified when I post more articles like this, make sure you subscribe to my newsletter list below. If you have any questions, leave them down in the comments, and I will be sure to get back to you.

Have a great day!!

~Trinity G.

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