Last week I talked about how important hydration for athletes, and this week I’ll go over power foods that will fuel the body for optimal performance.
Two key players in an athlete’s diet are carbs and protein. Ideally, the two should often be consumed hand-in-hand. While fat is still incredibly important in the diet, carbs and protein work together to fuel and recover working muscles.
Carbohydrates help open up cell doors to allow glucose and amino acids into the muscles. Athletes need a consistent source of carbs in the diet to maintain adequate muscle glycogen stores. Sources of carbs can include: vegetables, fruits, sweet potatoes, beans, rice, oats, as well as other grains such as pasta, cereal and bread. Try to focus on more natural sources of carbs and less on processed, sugar-sweetened carbs.
Protein assists with muscle growth and repair. It stimulates synthesis and growth within the muscle and can prevent excessive breakdown and degradation of the muscle fibers and tissue. Protein can be found in meats, chicken, fish, eggs, cheese, cottage cheese, Greek yogurt, nuts, peanut butter and additionally in supplements such as protein powder and bars.
Athletes should strive to eat every 2-4 hours. Consistent protein intake throughout the day can assist with good blood sugar control. This will help prevent any midday crashes in blood sugars and energy levels as well as properly fuel an athlete for an after-school practice or game. Prior to a big sporting event, it’s best for the athlete to consume familiar foods consisting of quick digesting carbs and lean proteins. High fat or high fiber foods may be too slow to digest and can cause an upset stomach when exercising. It would be recommended for an athlete to avoid pizza or fried foods immediately before a sporting event.
Eating protein and carbs within 30 minutes after a heavy workout or game will provide the greatest benefits to recovering muscles. During this period of time, there is increased blood flow to the muscles creating a better opportunity for nutrients to be absorbed. The enzymes that produce glycogen are also most active during this time frame so your muscles can quickly replenish their energy stores. Try to shoot for a goal of 15-45 grams of protein with a carbohydrate source as your recovery snack/meal.
Examples of recovery protein can include:
- 3 eggs/6 egg whites
- ¾ cup cottage cheese
- 1 cup Greek yogurt
- 3 ounces chicken, meat, fish
- 3 ounces hard cheese
- 6 Tablespoons peanut butter
- Protein bar
- 1 scoop of protein powder
Carbs can be enjoyed from fruit, sweet potatoes, rice, unsweetened cereal, whole grains, milk or a combination of foods! I recently gave a sports nutrition presentation to a local football team and made these Peanut Butter Energy Bites. They were gobbled up instantaneously!
- • 1 cup dry, old-fashioned oats
- • 2/3 cup toasted coconut flakes
- • ½ cup peanut butter
- • ½ cup ground flaxseed
- • ½ cup chocolate chips
- • 1/3 cup honey
- • 1 tsp vanilla extract
- Stir all ingredients on low in a mixing bowl. Cover and let chill in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.
- Once chilled, roll into whatever size balls you prefer (1 ½ inch diameter is a good goal). If not consumed immediately, they can be stored in the fridge in an air-tight container and will be good for up to 1 week.