The Summer Olympic games are being held for only two weeks but athletes spend years training for and mastering their sport. Becoming an Olympic athlete not only takes a lot of hard work, time and dedication but requires good nutrition to enhance workouts and maximize performance. While most of us are not training to be Olympic athletes, we can learn from the nutrition practices these star athletes implement on a daily basis.
1. Eat Breakfast. Every athlete knows that the base of a good training day starts with the right fuel to energize performance. A balanced breakfast will provide the energy needed to perform at maximum potential. Most athletes will start their day with complex carbohydrates mixed with protein and fat. The amount of calories consumed at breakfast will vary for each each individual sport and training schedule depending on anticipated total caloric expenditure for the day. A popular breakfast might be oatmeal with milk, fruit, nuts and plenty of water.
2. Cook at Home. Many athletes report a “stay fit tip” is to eat more foods prepared in their own kitchen rather than dining out. Preparing food at home ensures one is fueling with fresh foods that have been minimally processed and not cooked with an excess amounts of fat, sugar, or sodium. Dining in, rather than dining out, helps manage total calorie intake which is important for athletes to maintain their competitive weight.
3. Eat Whole Foods. Another principle many professional athletes embrace is eating whole fresh foods. This includes fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains such as quinoa, steel cut oats, brown rice and 100% whole wheat pasta and breads. Quality sources of protein would include lean beef, poultry, eggs, fish and whole soy protein options.
4. Limit Liquid Calories. Sports drinks have been marketed as the athletes “secret weapon” for peak performance, however in reality this is not the case. While there is a need for sport drinks during an event, hard core athletes know sports drinks were designed to be consumed during heavy training or during the event- not to drink all day long. The same principle goes for other high sugar beverages including sodas, fruit drinks and alcohol. Many athletes abstain from alcohol altogether during their training and competitive season and limit alcohol to special occasions.
5. View Food as Fuel. Athletes view food as essential fuel – just like gas to a car. Athletes eat with a purpose and their plate’s consist of foods packed with complex carbohydrates, lean protein, healthy fats, vitamins, minerals and water to maximize performance. Athletes minimize the amount of “empty” calories consumed by limiting refined sugars and unhealthy fats.
6. Limit Fried Foods. Athletes regonize that fried foods are not only high in calories but actually slow them down since fatty foods take longer to digest. Athletes compliment their meals with healthy fats utilizing healthy oils in cooking (canola, olive and soy oils), seeds, nuts and fatty fish. These fat sources are more monounsaturated based and some have high levels of omega fatty acids.
7. Fuel for Recovery. Athletes know that HOW they recover and re-fuel their body AFTER each training session is just as important as what they eat before a workout. Consuming a 4:1 ratio of carbohydrates to protein will enhance muscle recovery and minimize breakdown. One of the most popular post-workout drinks is low-fat chocolate milk since it contains both protein and carbohydrates!