The two things that contribute to athletic success that athletes have no control over are natural size and talent. Aside from those two factors, success is derived from the proper mix of nutrition and training, and those two components relate directly to one another.
Maribel Alchin of the Meijer Healthy Living team is quick to explain that what you eat affects your athletic performance, and she advises that your diet should include whole grains, a colorful variety of fruits and vegetables, lean meats, fish, low fat dairy, nuts, seeds and beans. Eating a well-balanced diet can help you feel stronger, train harder and compete better. So it’s important to choose healthier ingredients to prepare your meals by replacing the not-so-healthy foods with ones that are more nutrient rich to maximize your performance. With that being said, here is Maribel’s list of five foods that athletes should definitely avoid.
1. Refined/processed grains
When you need to slap a couple slices of bread together to make a sandwich, any old bread will do, right? Not necessarily. White bread may be an attractive option for some people, especially given its relative cheapness, but Maribel says there are several better options available.
“Replace refined grains with whole grains, such as brown rice, oatmeal, ancient grains (like quinoa, amaranth, millet), whole grain pasta and cereal, sprouted grains, and whole wheat bread,” Maribel advised. “Whole grains are nutrition powerhouse foods for athletes that have more fiber, vitamins, and minerals than processed white grains. They are packed with carbohydrates, which fuels your muscles and provides energy.”
2. Refined sugars
There is nothing inherently wrong with sugar; it’s a natural sweetener that makes just about everything taste better. The problem is created when people overindulge in the sweet stuff and receive it in highly concentrated forms. According to Maribel, there is a better way to indulge your sweet tooth, particularly if you’re an athlete.
“Refined sugars such as soda and candy also fuel muscles, but are nutrient poor choices and lack the vitamins you need to perform your best,” Maribel said. “Try eating some fruit if you’re looking for something sweet. Fruits are nature’s candy! They contain the electrolyte potassium, which helps prevent muscle cramps and restore electrolytes. Have a smoothie made with Greek yogurt and frozen berries within 15-60 minutes following practice or competition for a recovery snack to aid in muscle repair.”
3. Solid fats
Far from being a source of empty calories, fat is actually an essential nutrient, and it acts as your body’s primary source of sustainable energy, and a means of storage for certain vitamins. With that being said, there are several forms of fat, and some of them are better for you than others.
“Solid fats contain more saturated fat and/or trans fat than oil,” Maribel explained. “Replace solid fats like butter with foods that contain monounsaturated fats like avocados, olive oil, walnuts, and polyunsaturated fats like corn oil, soybean oil, fish, nuts and seeds. Omega-3 fatty acids are another source of healthy fats that helps reduce inflammation. Fish oil, flaxseed, chia seeds, walnuts, soybeans, and salmon are high in Omega-3 fatty acids. Eating healthy fats will provide you energy, a sense of satiety and aid in vitamin absorption.”
Caffeinated beverages have spawned huge industries around the world, including the creation of billion-dollar coffee, cola and energy drink companies. For athletes, caffeine can be a quick-fix that provides the boost necessary to either begin a workout, or to complete one. At the same time, Maribel insists that your standard workout beverage should be chosen more for its hydration potential, and less for its stimulating influence.
“Caffeine has a diuretic effect when consumed in large quantities, which could lead to poor hydration prior to and during exercise,” Maribel said. “In moderation, caffeine does not cause dehydration or electrolyte imbalance, but athletes should rely on non-caffeinated beverages for rapid hydration. If you are exercising for less than 60 minutes, water is a good choice to drink before, during, and after. For physical activity lasting longer than 60 minutes, sports drinks with 6-8% carbohydrates are a good option for replacing carbohydrates and electrolytes.”
5. New/untried foods
With so many foods touted as miraculous performance aids, there is always a temptation to try out something new on the day of a big game, tournament or race. However, Maribel says that athletes that opt to try some new or unique food item on the day of competition run the risk of having that food affect their performance in a negative way.
“New food on the day of an event is not a good idea,” Maribel insisted. “You may get an upset stomach or other gastrointestinal problems. Tried and true foods that are part of your day-to-day training diet are the safer bet. Try new sport foods during training sessions to determine which products work best for you before competition.”
Maribel Alchin, MBA, RD, LDN, Meijer Healthy Living Advisor & Personal Chef
The Meijer State Games of Michigan is a multi-sport, Olympic-style event(s) that welcome athletes regardless of age or ability level. The Games embody the values of participation, sportsmanship and healthy living.