If you are like most sports enthusiasts, you are enjoying watching the Olympics. You might be watching this with your children and squeezing this “must see TV” in between basketball practice or taking your child to yet another track or softball practice. As a mom of athletic children, I can remember the countless hours of practice, training, winning and losing. We invest money in gear, trainers and travel. Have you ever thought about the quality of food your athlete consumes and its impact on their performance and health?
In my world outside of Texas Children’s Hospital, I am blessed to work with some of the best athletes in
their individual sport. There is a group, I call the “1% ers” that are so genetically blessed that they can do whatever they want and still play well. However, as they get older and the competition gets tougher, eating can be their edge if they embrace a quality diet and it will extend their athletic career. What is clear for the other 99% is there is a way to eat, hydrate and recover that can help your child eat and train like an elite athlete. Think about the science of sports nutrition and avoid the hype. The United States Olympic Committee employs sports dietitians to provide the best nutrition to our U.S. athletes! Here is what the pros do:
- Elite athletes hydrate. They drink water during the day and sports drinks when the training is long and hard. Sports drinks are intended for sports and the last time I checked, lunch is not a sport. The best in the world don’t drink soda, lemonade, fruit punch or sweet tea. Energy drinks are limited because the caffeine dose is unpredictable. As parents, eliminate the drinks that provide no nutrition and just add calories. In my eleven years at the Texans, I remember only one player who drank soda. A dehydrated athlete can’t perform. At the Texas Relays last year, I saw an athlete ranked in the top ten as a distance runner, finish in 18th place because she was dehydrated. In her post race interview, she acknowledged she underestimated our heat and humidity. She missed qualifying for nationals because of dehydration. Drink fluid at regular intervals during the day to promote optimum hydration. The first morning urine should be light colored if your athlete is drinking enough.
- Great athletes don’t skip meals. They eat three meals and often multiple high quality snacks. Being too busy to eat breakfast often translates into too busy to be good. Breakfast can be a sandwich, yogurt and fruit or something more traditional. Food is fuel for the outstanding athlete and you never should run close to empty.
- Fruits and vegetables earn a gold medal as nutritional heroes. Regardless of the body composition goals, fruits and vegetables are 90% water, 100% good nutrition and belong on every plate, every meal. The colors of fruits and vegetables provide antioxidants and the polyphenolic compounds that help muscles recover from hard training. Serve fruits and vegetables at each meal. Pack dried fruit as an instant source of carbohydrate for a hard practice. Teaching your athletes to like fruits and vegetables and serving them at each meal reinforces these foods as essential to training.
- Protein at each meal helps build muscle and helps control appetite. Research has demonstrated the need for moderate amounts of protein at each meal. In Texas, we tend to “backload” our protein to dinner eating amounts more than needed. It is easier to do than you might believe even at the meal that all families struggle with-breakfast. Peanut butter toast and a glass of milk in the morning provide about 15 grams of protein. Most student athletes don’t need protein shakes or supplements if the meals are balanced. Protein snacks include Greek yogurt, nuts and beef jerky. Remember protein does not always need to be meat. Beans can take center stage and a bean burrito made with a whole grain tortilla is a quality source of protein and easy on the budget. Beans have the added benefit of being a quality carbohydrate rich in fiber.
- Great athletes go for the grains along with the gold. In a low carbohydrate world, carbohydrate phobia is alive and well. Reducing carbohydrates may be a good goal for parents who watch their children practice but not their athletic children. As parents, we have to avoid the “Sochi syndrome” of eating while watching the Olympics. Cheering for Olympians is not a calorie burning activity. Many of us would medal in eating while watching TV and most of the snacks are not so awesome carbs. But for athletes, carbohydrates are the fuel of exercising muscle with an emphasis on quality. Cookies, candy, cakes are all carbs but lack the quality to improve athletic performance. Quality carbs include whole grain cereals, oatmeal, 100% whole grain breads and brown rice. If your family is new to this style of eating, work into it. You can try multigrain breads and instant brown rice since both are less “chewy” than their true 100% whole grain cousins. Remember, low fat popcorn is a quick and easy whole grain snack.
For athletes of all ages, it’s important you eat the right foods that can help improve your performance. For more information on sports nutrition, visit our website http://www.texaschildrensblog.org/author/randing/
Roberta Ending, RD, MS RD CSSD LD CDE FAND, is the sports dietitian for Baylor College of Medicine department of Orthopedics Surgery and Corporate Programs. In clinical practice, she is the sports dietitian for the Houston Astros and the Rice University.