How to Eat Like A Professional Athlete
Professional athletes are some of the most competitive and healthy people in the world. You may be surprised what their nutrition looks like.
Professional athletes work hard and train hard to become elite in their fields. They push themselves to new heights of mental, emotional, and physical endurance.
It’s easy to look at these athletes and forget about the discipline required to achieve their levels of success. Regardless of the sport, there is one thing professional athletes have in common—they have to fuel their bodies to compete.
Fueling your body can mean different things to different athletes. For example, famous Olympic medalist Michael Phelps was known for eating 12,000 calories per day during his training season, according to the New York Post—and no—those calories didn’t come only from healthy foods.
The sports you train for will vary and so will your goals. Regardless of the sport or competition level, one thing is certain, finding the right balance in your diet is essential. We spoke with professional cyclist and world-renowned competitor, Kristin Armstrong, to discuss how to properly eat like a professional athlete while actively training.
Note: Consuming excess calories without a proper exercise routine to counteract them could be detrimental to your health.
Plan your meals and snacks.
The first step to fueling your body while in training mode is to make and stick to a plan. Many aspiring athletes unintentionally make poor eating choices due to lack of planning. As a competitor, that could be the difference between a trophy, medal, or going home empty-handed.
Armstrong spoke to this idea and said, “I eat balanced meals, don’t eliminate any food groups and have no food allergies. I . . .prepare balanced meals for my family and myself.” She continued, “When I say ‘balanced,’ it means that I eat three meals a day as well as a few snacks between or after meals. I include a mix of carbohydrates, proteins, fruits, and vegetables with each of our meals.”
Armstrong tries hard not to overcomplicate things, especially because she has to answer to her family about what they’re eating, too.
“As a mom, I talk about food as if we are fueling our engines and that by eating healthy food you are going to be stronger and faster. In these terms, it becomes quite simple to understand.”
Take the time to plan out your meals so that you manage cravings and avoid impulse decisions regarding food or drink.
Don’t skip breakfast.
Researchers have been performing studies for decades regarding the importance of breakfast for the body. Whether it’s the most important meal of the day or not isn’t clear, but research shows it’s still beneficial. Rania Mekary, PhD, and researcher for the Harvard School of Public Health, told WebMd, “My findings highly suggest that breakfast is beneficial for you.”
Athletes desperately need something to get them going in the morning, regardless of whether they’ll be training.
“Just 100 to 300 calories can put a little carbohydrate into your system, boost your blood sugar so that you are running on fuel, not fumes, and enhance your performance,” said Nancy Clark, a sports nutritionist and author at active.com.
Armstrong confirmed this in her own eating habits and said, “Eating breakfast sets you and your body up for a successful day. It kick-starts your body and gets your engine running.”
What you decide to eat for breakfast is entirely up to you, but remember, it doesn’t need to be a heavy meal before your workout. A good rule of thumb: Something is better than nothing.
Drink lots of liquids.
Staying properly hydrated can be trickier than you might think when training hard. According to active.com, “Three to five percent dehydration does not seem to affect muscle strength or performance during short, intense bouts of anaerobic exercise, such as weight lifting. But distance runners slow their pace by two percent for each percent of body weight lost through dehydration. Sweat loss of more than 10 percent body weight is life threatening.”
For casual hydration and thirst quenching through the day, Armstrong mixes things up by drinking regular tap water and carbonated water with natural flavoring. When drinking with meals or while on the bike things change.
“I drink milk with my meals and will make sure when I am out training on my bike, my bottles are filled with a mix of water and electrolytes.” She added, “Many sports drinks are very high in sugar and calories—it is important to know when to use [certain drinks], as well as which ones are beneficial to your performance.”
It’s also important to remember that staying hydrated doesn’t come only from liquids. The following foods are high in water content:
- Tomatoes and broccoli
- Low-fat vanilla yogurt
- Low-fat milk
Don’t exercise on an empty stomach.
Skipping a meal can be detrimental to your body. “If you begin skipping meals it sets your body back, and it will not be able to manage the workload and demands you place on it throughout the day,” said Armstrong.
Aside from regular meals, many athletes make snacks a part of their day. Armstrong eats snacks with a two fold purpose—training and pleasure. She admits that sometimes she has a snack because she simply “can’t resist the temptation.” Other snacks are more purposeful, such as consuming more protein or topping off energy stores before a long ride.
“On-the-bike snacking or fueling is also important. After 60 to 90 minutes of aerobic exercise your glycogen levels become depleted; it is important to refuel these energy stores if your training session is longer than this,” Armstrong said.
She continued, “If I have a sweet tooth, my go-to is fruit; I make it the easy choice by stocking my refrigerator with a variety of choices. If I don’t grab some fruit, some of my other favorites are yogurt, cheese, or a glass of chocolate milk.”
Eat to recover.
It’s a well-known fact that sleep is the key to proper recovery because that is when the greatest healing takes place. It doesn’t mean, however, that you can’t make preparations during the day to maximize recovery at night.
Armstrong spoke to her workouts as a cyclist and said, “There is a 30-minute window post-training where I focus on my recovery. This is done through a protein drink or natural foods such as plain yogurt with honey or maple syrup. The larger meal can come within a few hours post workout.”
If you want to compete for years to come, take the time now to invest in proper recovery. It can help you avoid serious injury. It’s like your parents used to always tell you, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
Looking for more tips and information on healthy living? Check out our other articles here.
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