If you want to perform like an Olympic athlete, you need to eat like one, too.
Nutritionists agree that the intensity of athletes’ training demands the right kind of fuel. While the rest of us may not be training for the Olympics any time soon, we can still be stronger, faster and fitter by eating adopting some of the top eating habits of the top Olympians.
“One of the biggest mistakes athletes make is heading out for a run in the morning without eating anything first,” says Dan Benardot, PhD, RD, director of the Laboratory for Elite Athlete Performance at Georgia State University in Atlanta, who works with Olympic distance runners (10,000m and up) and oversees the nutrition program for U.S. Figure Skating.
Your blood sugar is already low when you wake up, so you should have something carb-laden to eat, like half a bagel or some toast, as soon as you get out of bed. That way, 30 to 45 minutes will have passed before you actually head out the door. If you’re not used to eating in the morning, start small, says Benardot, such as having a small glass of apple juice, a piece of toast or a cup of yogurt.
Drinking water while you work out is great, but if you start your race on empty, you’re never going to finish as strong as you want. Athletes should be consuming .5 to 1 ounce of H2O per pound of body weight every day, says Amanda Carlson-Phillips, vice president of nutrition and research for Athletes’ Performance in Phoenix, Arizona, who regularly consults with Olympic contenders and pros.
Eat Immunity-Boosting Foods
One of the best things you can do to better your performance is to stay healthy, which means that you need a good amount of antioxidants and superfoods in your diet. Beth Duryea, head soigneur for the Specialized-lululemon women’s cycling team, says she encourages all of the riders, including Olympic contenders Evelyn Stevens and Amber Neben, to incorporate whole-grain carbs, lean proteins, and colorful fruits and veggies into their snacks and meals every day. The more color on your plate, the better, she says. Duryea also recommends taking a daily multivitamin, such as First Endurance Multi-V ($49.99, firstendurance.com), which is designed specifically for endurance athletes. Carlson-Phillips also suggests stocking up on Greek yogurt, which is high in probiotics, as another stay-healthy tool. Sprinkle some walnuts and fruit or flax seeds on top for a bonus antioxidant boost.
Don’t Avoid Carbs
If you wait until the day before a big workout to load up on carbs, you’re too late, says Carlson-Phillips. “You need to focus on your nutrition every day, and then the night before is a good time to simply top off your fuel stores,” she says. Plus, notes Benardot, when you consume too many carbs at once, your body can’t use it all, so it stores any excess as fat, which will do you no good. Always make sure that you’re eating a healthy mix of carbs and protein. To ensure you’re not eating too much the night before, simply replace one protein or veggie portion of your plate with another serving of carbs.
Continue to drink fluids, like water and electrolyte drinks, throughout the day, but particularly until about 15 minutes before your workout.
Eat The Right Recovery Foods
Immediately after you finish a high-intensity and/or endurance activity (within 30 minutes), you should consume something made with a mix of protein and carbs, like a glass of chocolate milk, a whey protein shake or a turkey sandwich.
“This will help reduce muscle soreness and aid in your muscle recovery,” says Benardot.
Also, avoid processed carbs, which increase inflammation, and opt for anti-inflammatory foods, like cherries, walnuts, and kale, instead.
Do Not “Diet”
“The biggest nutrition mistake I see female athletes make is reducing and/or limiting their caloric intake in an attempt to be lean,” says Scott. “This causes reduced stores of carbohydrates in your body, which are essential for training and performing, and can then lead to muscle breakdown, as your body eventually starts to use protein as an alternative fuel source.”
Aug 8, 2012 By Lucas Johnson, BDO Staff Writer
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