We can all take inspiration from the remarkable athletes competing in this year’s summer Olympic games (in London from July 27, 2012 to August 12, 2012). These athletes not only train their bodies and their minds to perfection, they also know that their nutrition plays a key role in the recipe for an Olympic champion. Training and competing in the Olympics involves an immense amount of hard work, dedication and perseverance. Eating a healthy diet sufficient in nutrients and with enough calories to fuel competition and training is an important component of all athlete’s training plans and just may be the deciding factor in that tenth of a second that distinguishes gold from silver. Take this opportunity to tap into the Olympic energy swirling around the world this summer and see if you can incorporate some or all of the 6 nutrition tips below and you will eating like an Olympian!
1. Eat breakfast and wake up a winner. Mom was right, breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Athletes know that they must fuel their workouts with nutritious foods or they will not be able to train and compete to the best of their ability. Ideally it is best to “break the fast” with a whole grain (oatmeal wins the gold for heart health), mixed with a calcium and protein-rich liquid (such as fat-free milk or soy milk) and topped with vitamin and antioxidant-rich fresh fruit (such as blueberries).
2. Eat at home more often. Athletes must ensure that what they put in their mouths is top quality food that has the highest nutrient to calorie ratio. This means that athletes minimize the amount of “empty” calories they consume by limiting refined sugars, flours, and “bad” fats. When we eat out, we are served gargantuan portion sizes packed with too much sodium, saturated fat, trans fat, sugar and refined carbs. Cooking at home more often will allow you to control what goes in your mouth. Start with fresh, unprocessed food and flavor your meals with more healthful alternatives.
3. Eat small frequent meals for endurance. Another principle many professional athletes embrace is to eat small, frequent meals. Olympic athletes begin early by fueling-up with a quality breakfast and then continue to fuel throughout the day with healthy meals consisting of low-fat dairy, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein and “good” fats. Eating lots of healthful mini-meals keeps energy levels up and powers the body over a 12 hour time span. Although the main nutrient in an athlete’s diet is healthy carbohydrates (such as fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains such as quinoa, steel cut oats, potatoes, brown rice, and 100% whole wheat pasta and breads), athletes also know to include quality protein sources such as lean beef, poultry, eggs, beans and fish as well as a smaller amount of “good” fats such as olive oil, nuts, seeds and fatty fish.
4. Rehydrate but limit liquid calories. Athletes drink plenty of water to keep hydrated through the day, and so should you. Sports drinks have been marketed as the elite athletes “secret weapon” for peak performance, however in reality this is not the case. Hard core athletes know that sports drinks were designed to be consumed during training or during the event - not to drink all day long. Water is still the best for rehydration (for most of us) unless we are competing in long distance endurance events.
5. Eat those carbs. Athletes look at what they put into their bodies as essential fuel to perform. Carbohydrate is the muscle’s primary form of energy so the athlete’s plate will most often consist of foods that are packed with carbohydrates (as well as vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and phytochemicals) to maximize performance.
6. Eat healthy fats and limit fried foods. Fried foods are not only high in calories, but often contain “bad” fats. Athletes typically limit their intake of fried foods and instead compliment their meals and snacks with more healthful plant based sources of fats such as nuts, avocados, olive oil, canola oil, and fatty fish.