Food: The Body’s Fuel
by Elisa Bremner, RD, Northern Westchester Hospital
Good nutrition can help athletes attain optimal performance. Fitness fanatics, school athletes and weekend warriors alike want to get the most out of their fitness regime. What are the dangers of making the wrong diet choices? Apart from suboptimal performance, poor nutrition puts you at risk for loss of muscle mass or bone density, fatigue, injury, illness and a longer recovery process when injuries do occur.
It is important to keep in mind that all three macronutrients are crucial to the athlete’s diet:
• Carbohydrate provides energy for sports; it maintains blood glucose levels during exercise and replaces muscle glycogen after activity. The amount required depends on total energy expenditure (determined by type of sport, gender, environmental conditions), but recommendation for athletes range from 6-10 grams of carbohydrate per kg of body weight (2.7-4.5 grams CHO per lb. body weight). This would be about 400-550 grams for a 150 pound athlete (equal to 1600-2200 kcals). Typically athletes who restrict carbohydrates will experience low energy and will be unable to attain peak performance.
• Protein is important for building and maintaining muscle. The benefit is obvious for strength athletes, but even for endurance athletes, maintaining muscle is key to preventing and recovering from injury and to achieve optimal power. Protein recommendations for athletes range from 1.2-1.7 grams of protein per kg of body weight (or 0.5-0.8 grams protein per lb. body weight) per day. This means about 75-120 grams per day for the 150 lb. athlete. This amount can generally be met through diet alone, without the use of protein supplements.
• Fat, a source of energy, fat-soluble vitamins, and essential fatty acids is important in the diets of athletes. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends a fat intake of 20-35% of total energy intake — “energy” means kilocalories, so 20-35% of the athlete’s caloric intake should come from fat. Very low fat diets and high fat diets will not benefit performance.
Snacks comprise an important part of an athlete’s diet, keeping energy levels high between meals. Healthy snacks can boost stamina and endurance, and improve athletic performance. Calories from snacks should be from quality nutrients, not from added sugar and unhealthy (saturated) fats. Regular meals and snacks (4 hours or less between them) promote a healthy metabolism. A bowl of cereal with skim milk can always make a quick and nutritious snack. Good choices include Kellogg’s Special K protein plus, Kashi Go Lean (original), Barbara’s Bakery Puffins (original or gluten free multi-grain), Post grape-nuts (calorie-dense option).
Here are some other healthful snack ideas:
• 1 cup nonfat Greek yogurt with ½ cup mixed berries – 170 kcals, 23 g pro
• Carrot and celery sticks with ¼ cup Hummus – 160 kcals, 4 g pro
• 1 small apple with PB Protein Dip: 1 Tbsp. peanut butter mixed into ¼ cup nonfat Greek yogurt – 175 kcals, 10 g pro
• 2 oz. Tuna (chunk white in water) with ½ Tbsp. canola mayonnaise, 6 Triscuits – 190 kcals, 13 g pro
Sample Meal Plan (adjust amounts to your caloric needs) Note on beverages: athletes need plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration. A 1% water loss, that which might be indicated by thirst, translates to dips in athletic performance and concentration. Water is ideal; sports drinks become useful after 1 hour of strenuous activity. Drink 10+ cups per day.
1 cup old fashioned or steel cut oatmeal, ¼ cup skim milk, with 2 Tbsp. Peanut butter and 2 chopped Medjool dates – 450 kcals 15g protein
Deviled Egg Salad (recipe below) on 2 slices rye toast with lettuce and tomato – 350 kcals, 23 g protein
Chicken Souvlaki (recipe below) – 4 oz. Chicken with 2 Tbsp. minty yogurt, 1 cup shredded romaine lettuce, tomatoes and whole wheat flat Greek pita – 425 kcals, 39 g protein
(Include 2-3 snacks daily.)
Deviled Egg Salad
1 Tbsp. canola mayonnaise
1 Tbsp. Nonfat plain Greek yogurt
¼ tsp. Dried minced onion
½ tsp. Dijon mustard
½ tsp. Paprika
salt & pepper hot sauce (optional)
Chop eggs and mix with remaining ingredients.
1 lb. raw chicken breast
1 grated onion
2 crushed garlic cloves
2 Tbsp. chopped oregano and rosemary
1 tsp. ground cumin
¼ to ½ tsp. cayenne pepper
juice of one lemon
salt and ground black pepper
Marinate chicken in remaining ingredients for 1 hour. Grill on pan or barbecue.
Minty Yogurt Sauce
½ cup nonfat plain Greek yogurt
2 scallions, thinly sliced
1 Tbsp. Chopped fresh mint chopped cilantro
salt and pepper to taste
• Nancy Clark’s Sports Nutrition Guidebook
• Sport, Cardiovascular and Wellness Nutrition – a dietetic practice group of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics http://www.scandpg.org/