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Advice about Nutrition for the Athlete

Eating like an Athlete

The advice I give to athletes is a lot of times the same advice I give to most people… eat often, eat quality, and eat enough.

Eating often is important to an athlete for many reasons. Due to their high caloric needs, athletes should eat at least every 3-4 hours, and should eat more often when training multiple times daily. Starting with breakfast is important, as the body’s metabolism works best when fueled upon waking up. Metabolism is the system in which the body takes calories from ingested food and stored energy and turns it into energy that is usable. When metabolism is more efficient, workouts become more productive. Energy throughout the athlete’s day is also more readily available.

Another way to help the body be more efficient at making energy is to eat “quality,” or to eat the right things. Proteins, carbohydrates, and healthy fats provide necessary energy for an athlete to perform. A distinguishing factor between different foods with protein, carb and fat is how many other little nutrients are included. When you eat carbs from whole grains, fruits, veggies, and milk, you receive many other benefits, such as Vitamin C, Calcium, and muscle building amino acids, which all help in performance.

Eating enough is relative to the gender, sport and position played, size, and goals of the athlete.  A general rule of thumb for the recreational athlete wanting to improve performance is to eat your body weight in pounds times 15-20 calories.  If you are male, younger, training heavily, and/or have a large amount of muscle, you should eat on the higher end of this range. As a general rule of thumb, this applies to most people, but as a disclaimer, some people require more or less calories at different points in their training.

Here is an example of an ideal eating schedule for an average athlete. Keep in mind that gender, sport, position played, and size will affect an athlete’s energy and timing needs.

Wake up:  Small snack, such as a banana or a yogurt

Immediately Post workout:  Carbohydrate and Protein balanced Recovery shake

Breakfast:  Carbohydrate based breakfast with added protein, such as an egg sandwich, yogurt and piece of fruit

To go Snack:  Trail mix with peanuts, raisins, & pretzels

Lunch:  Deli Sandwich, low fat cottage cheese, side of pasta salad, baby carrots and hummus

Snack:  String cheese and one ounce of almonds

Practice calories:  Gatorade

Post Practice:  8-oz skim Chocolate milk

Dinner:  1 cup serving of pasta with red sauce, 4-oz grilled chicken breast, salad with beans, vinaigrette style dressing, and extra veggies

Bedtime Snack:  Packet of instant oatmeal with skim or low fat milk

If you are trying to improve your performance in a sport, start by writing down the foods you eat in a day. Don’t change everything at once, or your body might not adjust as well! Instead, work to improve things little by little, and take note of how it affects your training.

-Jill Koegel, RD, CSSD, CDE
(Jill is an Omaha-based registered dietitian, certified specialist in sports dietetics, and certified diabetes educator)

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