I am bringing up nutrition for athletes because I have been noticing that athletes are eating and looking like crap. I have been keeping track and more than half the athletes I assess have high body fat percentages and don’t really look very athletic at all. After some questioning I find out the one’s that are out of shape, do not know or care about what they put in their bodies. Maybe I should rephrase that, they believe somehow that as long as they play their sport and throw some weights around, it doesn’t matter what they eat. After a short pause, my response is usually ………WHAT?!

After calming down, I ask how serious they are about getting better at what they do and explain how important nutrition is for body composition and performance. You will notice that those two go hand in hand most of the time - especially when we are talking about high level athletics. Some athletes just want to know how to get a “six pack” and some want to take their performance to another level. Either way, whatever will motivate them to eat better and think about what they are putting in their mouth. For the performance oriented I will give this example to make them think about how much of a change lower body fat percentage makes:

Athlete A:  200 lbs, 18% Body Fat ………………. 36 lbs body fat, 164 lbs lean body mass

Athlete B: 200 lbs, 10% Body Fat ………………… 20 lbs body fat, 180 lbs lean body mass

So at the same bodyweight athlete B is carrying 16 lbs less body fat and 16 lbs more muscle. Who do you think is stronger, faster, more conditioned. I would put my money on athlete B, actually I would bet athlete B would CRUSH athlete A on the field/court. On top of that athlete B would look a lot better without his shirt on and have a more successfull summer with the ladies (if he is not a total idiot off course).

                                                       Olympic weightlifter     
                                                          Great performance & bettter love life

I am going to list some of the things I consider fundamentals of proper nutrition for athletes (also anyone that is serious about improving their performance and body composition).

Overweight athlete

How much better could he be with better nutrition?

1. Fuel Your Body for Performance. Eating enough calories to maintain strength, high energy levels and help recover from intense training sessions. If there is a need for fat loss then calories will be somewhat restricted (never below 20% of maintenance or 500 calories) but there will still be an emphasis on nutrient timing so that the body can recover from tough workouts and the athlete can maintain lean body mass.

2. Eating Enough Protein. I can’t emphasize how important this is. You should be eating ample amount of protein whether you are trying to lose body fat or build muscle. Protein has a high TEF (thermic effect), so we burn more calories digesting it as compared to carbs and fats, this is why it is a good reason to eat a higher protein diet when trying to lose fat. And we all know that protein is the building block of muscle so if you want your grandma to ask what happened to you over the summer then you better start eating at least 1 gram of protein per lb of bodyweight (200 lb athletes, min. 200 g of protein). Failure to consume enough protein is really throwing progress out the window. You choose.

3. Consuming Lower GI Complex Carbs. Carbs are also important but they are a little harder to properly implement than protein. Most athletes have a problem with eating too many refined carbs (any refined carbs is too many!), which means they have processed and drained of their nutritional value, the only thing being left over - sugar. When you choose carbohydrates, try to keep them as close to their natural state as possible. Choose foods like brown rice, whole-wheat pasta, Flax or 12 grain breads, large flaked Steel Cut Oats, Yams, Sweet Potatoes, and bran cereals. Depending on your goals, amounts of carbs will vary. Let me repeat this again though, processed food will wreck havoc on your performance, feeling and body composition.

4. Up the Fat. Whoever has a smile on their face, this doesn’t mean go and eat fries and cinnabons. I am talking about essential fats, Omega 3-6-9. I would advise everyone to eat fish three times a week or more. Next time you are atthe store get some of these on the list salmon, herring, trout, sea bass and mackerel, as they are all good sources of Omega 3’s. I think that the majority of people should supplement Omega 3’s also just because it will be tough to get enough from regular nutrtion and many fish in stores are farm raised and do not have the nutrients that wild fish have. Omega 9 fats should come from olive oil, avocado’s, nuts and olives.

5. Eat 5-6 meals a day. If you want to put in muscle then you have to eat and eat frequently, so 5-6 meals a day are a must. Thing is, if you want to lose fat then this is also the way to go as more frequent eating will boost the metabolism and avoid the body from going into starvation mode and reduce cravings throughout the day and in the eveining.

6. Drinking enough water. We all know that water is essential to life, so why are we not drinking enough of it? If you put the soda (or fruit juices and coffee) down and replaced it with water you would be on the right path. When I say water I mean water - no substitutes. Water will help you eliminate toxins from the body, prevent many different health conditions, help in cell volumization, and help reduce body fat levels among others.

7. Take a Multivitamin. Micronutrients play a major role in many different functions in the body. These include such things as protein absorption, regulation of your heartbeat, hormone production, regulation of your immune system and much more. The majority of athletes are malnourished when it comes to vitamins and minerals and their performance suffers considerably without them even knowing the cause. Bottom line, take a good multivitamin/mineral formula!

8. Eliminate Junk Food. You didn’t see this one coming did you? This includes fast food, candy bars, potato chips, ice cream, cookies, desserts, pie, fatty cuts of processed meats and enough sugar to put a mountain gorilla into a diabetic coma. These foods have absolutely no nutritional value and it is wrecking your body from the inside out! Having these foods every once in a while is fine if you can control the craving but otherwise don’t keep them around you period.

9. Increase Fiber Intake. Most people are fiber defficient and I have found that athletes are not any better. I don’t want to overwhelm you so how about starting of slow and then icreasing the intake. Just by adding a cup of dried oats to your breakfast a few times a week, adding some vegetables to your meal plan a couple times a day, and throwing in a piece of fruit with your snacks can really make a difference in getting this fiber train started.

10. Use a Protein Supplement. The reality of eating 6 full food meals per day for most is very tough if not near impossible. But at the same time we can’t let our performance go down the drain because of life’s daily chores. One very easy way to get in all your protein requirements is to take in 2-4 protein shakes per day. This way you are still just eating your Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner like the rest of the free world. As I mentioned above, you need to get 1 gram per lb of bodyweight of protein/day, so the protein supplemets will really help you get up to that number (majority of athletes are not even getting half of that!)

11. Eat your Fruits and Vegetables. Your mother already told you that but now I’m telling you and you better step it up. They contain a wide spectrum of vitamins and minerals that are essential for proper body functions as well as performance. They also contain fiber, which if you read above is another thing that athletes are deficient in. Let’s not forget the all-important anti-oxidants that they provide to the athlete. Since most athletes are part of intense training, they need even more anti-oxidant protection then your everyday couch potato. This is because intense training can increase free radical production in the body.

I hope that these fundamentals shed some light on what your nutrition should start to resemble. Throw away your golden arches t-shirt that you got for being a loyal customer, re-read this list everyday and take your performance to another level starting with what you put in that machine - your body.

In the future I will elaborate more on nutrient timing and some more advanced nutritional strategies for the serious athlete.

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