A friend who is a sports psychologist recently interviewed me, to ask how and what athletes should eat to improve their performance in sports. Here is my feedback on the topic and answers to some common queries:
Athlete’s top Sports Nutrition Questions
- What and when should you eat for peak performance?
- How do you handle pre-competition eating when you are too nervous to eat?
- What can you pack when you are going on the road?
- Dairy and Gluten: Should you eat or avoid them?
1. The Right Food: “It’s not only WHAT you eat, it is WHEN you eat” says Sarah. For example, if you are competing first thing in the morning, your breakfast will be quite different than if your event is in the late afternoon.
How? “Some people do fine with animal protein, but it does require more energy to digest than plant based protein.”
Sarah’s Suggestion: Try a simple peanut butter and banana sandwich on whole wheat or gluten free bread vs. eggs especially if competing in the morning.
For an Afternoon/Evening Match?
Sarah’s Suggestion: “The Fabulous Five Smoothie” for breakfast I perfect–loaded with protein, fiber, healthy fats, dairy free milk, fruits and vegetables will both nourish and hydrate you. (recipe available at bodybalance365.com)
2. Pre-competition nerves: All athletes have butterflies and some even get sick! Don’t leave your fuel or your focus to chance. Pay attention to what is within your control:
- Hydration: “to start hydrating at least one day before hand. Drinking a 16 oz. water bottle right before a squash match will not end well.” While competing: “sip a sports drink (no caffeine, which further dehydrates you) or water between games.
- Dinner Matters: You don’t need a LOT of food to get through a match—a healthy dinner the night before with lean protein (no rib eyes, please), complex carbs, and vegetables is perfect.
- Snacks: A handful of nuts or a piece of toast with almond butter, a banana or berries, or clementine oranges won’t make you too full, while providing some protein and fructose for energy.
- Post Competition: You may have no appetite after competing, but try not to wait more than an hour to eat, so your don’t become further depleted of nutrients or start to burn muscle. Treat yourself to a favorite lunch, but be wary of a bacon cheeseburger and French Fries. Your body has been thoroughly exerted and you are also dehydrated—a meal consisting of fatty meat, dairy and salty fried food is very taxing to digest, and can make you feel bloated and crampy for the rest of the day.” A nutrient rich smoothie is always a good post competition option. (See Fabulous Five Smoothie above.)
3. What do you eat on the Road? “Planning ahead for athletes who frequently travel it is essential.” And bring food!
Sarah’s Packing suggestions: hard boiled eggs, apples, bananas, trail mix, jerky, single servings of peanut and almond butter, gluten free crackers and granola, unsweetened coconut or greek yogurt cups, HEALTHY protein bars (What is a healthy protein bar?), and even a Ziplock bag of a whole grain cereal, pistachios and dark chocolate chips save you from stressing about “what will be available to eat” at the event. At many athletic tournaments the vendors sell only pizza, chips, and Gatorade—enjoyable for spectators, but not great for athletes.
4.Dairy Free, Gluten Free: What’s The Deal?
The dairy debate rages on. “Yes, athletes need plenty of calcium, especially when their bones are developing, which continues even after college. But it does not NEED to all come from dairy, nor would I recommend it” says Sarah. Just Google professional athletes who are Vegan or Paleo and you will see that dairy is NOT always required to have strong bone mass. Venus Williams, Carl Lewis, Hannah Teter, Phil Mickelson, and Kobe Bryant do not eat dairy. “There is a ton of calcium in leafy green vegetables, beans, nuts and seeds, salmon, and “milk substitutes” like almond and hemp seed milk. Many people cannot digest lactose, which leads to inflammation in the gut and other GI issues. If you love a good grilled cheese once in a while, go for it, but just remember there is more calcium in broccoli than cheddar cheese!” “Gluten is also a hot topic—not only for digestive reasons but also for focus. Some athletes notice they feel “sharper” when they eliminate gluten from their diet; something I refer to as the “gluten fog”. Keep in mind that many gluten free products replace wheat with corn or potato flour—two foods which are also inflammatory and provide little or no protein and fiber. If you do not have a medical condition (i.e. celiac disease) you probably do not need to swear off gluten entirely, but eliminating most processed and packaged foods is the easiest way to limit your gluten consumption.”
A clean, whole foods diet is your safest bet to ensure proper nutrition and help you perform to your best potential.
To learn about sports performance and how to achieve better mental strength and confidence contact Amy Tardio at: AmyTardio.com or PerformSportsPsychology.com