Not only does this beautiful weather give us an excuse to put off studying just a little bit longer, but it also gives us the opportunity to play more sports outdoors. Whether it’s a pick-up game of volleyball at the beach, intramural softball or hiking Bishop Peak, your body needs a good source of fuel to get you through the activity.
Every day, it seems, you hear about a new study proving the performance of some eating strategy or nutrient you’ve never heard of. To make matters worse, all the sports nutrition companies make so many competing claims, you don’t know who to listen to. However, fueling your body for optimum athletic performance is not as complicated as it may seem. Everything you need to know to get through your game or workout can be boiled down to a few basic tips.
Keep it natural
The majority of the foods you eat should be as minimally processed as possible. As a general rule, the shorter the ingredient list in a food product, the better. Refined sugar, fried foods and processed oils should have a small place in your diet.
Balance is key
No single food has all the nutrients you need for optimal health, so it’s important to eat a variety of foods every day. A top performance food plan includes adequate protein for growth and repair, plenty of carbohydrates for fuel or energy, and enough fat to meet an athlete’s remaining energy needs.
Use the Food Guide Pyramid at Mypyramid.gov to select foods providing a good balance of carbohydrates, protein, fats, vitamins and minerals. Adjust the amount of food you need according to your size and energy needs of your sport.
Don’t skip breakfast
Try to keep it balanced with some protein, a healthy carbohydrate, and a small amount of fat. Some examples include an egg-white omelet with fresh berries and a piece of whole-wheat toast, or a smoothie with skim milk, fruit and yogurt.
Have a mid-afternoon snack
This will curb your appetite and provide fuel for your after-work walk or workout at the gym.
Some great snack ideas include: reduced-fat peanut butter on a multigrain cracker; a couple of pieces of low-fat string cheese and an apple; cottage cheese with pineapple; or a low-fat cheese in a whole-wheat pita.
Eat for recovery
When you finish a workout, many of your muscle fibers are damaged from exertion, your muscle fuel stores are low, and you’re at least slightly dehydrated. Proper nutrition is required to rebuild and refuel your muscles and re-hydrate your body. Specifically, you need protein for tissue repair, carbohydrates to restock your muscles with fuel, and water to re-hydrate.
The sooner you supply your body with these nutrients, the better; in the first hour after exercise, the muscles are able to use nutrients for recovery much efficiently than at any other time.
Avoid common deficiencies
Athletes can suffer from a handful of nutrient deficiencies that may have negative consequences not only for their athletic performance but also for their general health. Fortunately, they’re all easily avoided with a balanced diet.
Sarah Bailey is a nutrition senior, a Mustang Daily nutrition columnist and a member of PULSE. E-mail her your questions at email@example.com.