Monday, December 7, 2015

The Athlete's Plate

Could your diet use an overhaul? How would you rate YOUR plate? Eating healthy will always be a work in progress.
Let’s talk about a simple concept that can help athletes fuel for peak performance. There are no gimmicks or quick fixes. The key is to strive for a balanced plate.
One option that works well for many athletes is MyPlate (  Eating in this general fashion promotes balance and would improve the diet of most athletes I know.

This healthy eating strategy divides your plate down the middle. One half of your plate is made up entirely of fruits and vegetables. The other half is divided into protein and grains. Remember the more fruits and veggies you can get in the better. Oh, and don’t forget about your dairy.
For endurance athletes, in particular, the amount of grains should be adjusted based on training needs. We will discuss this concept in a future post.
If you could emulate the plate in the picture at most meals you would really be off to a good start.

This will be based on personal preference but let’s look at some options. Lots of factors may influence breakfast. The biggest factor will be the timing of your workout(s). For instance, is this a pre-workout snack or maybe a post workout meal?
This makes a big difference as many athletes like to have something on their stomach before a workout.
If you’re going to the gym for a weight training session you may be able to eat a regular meal. On the other hand, if you are planning a long aerobic workout, eating a big meal may not be the best idea.
Some people can do it but I can’t.
If I am planning to go long (2+ hours) I would eat early and allow an hour or so for digestion. This means waking up extra early to ensure I’m fueled to start my workout.

For a shorter workout (< 1 hour), I may grab a small snack or not eat at all. After my workout, I would eat my regular breakfast.
Examples of healthy breakfast optionsinclude:
·         whole grain waffles with maple syrup
·         granola cereal with skim milk and berries
·         whole wheat toast with fruit spread or peanut butter
·         orange juice or skim milk
·         oatmeal with raisins and walnuts
·         fruit smoothie
Mix and match these to provide a variety of different breakfast options.
Lunch & Dinner
Because of work and family commitments, lunch and dinner are without question the most challenging meals of the day. We’ve all been there—you ate well for breakfast and lunch only to blow it at dinner. I get it, it definitely happens.
Don’t use your busy schedule as an excuse…you should still attempt to achieve a balanced plate. It takes planning but you can make it happen.
Try not to complicate things. For example, an athlete’s plate at lunch or dinner may consists of
·         a chicken sandwich, veggies, and a fruit cup
·         pasta with tomato sauce, a side salad, and a piece of fruit. Don’t forget to throw some vegetables in your sauce.
·         a bean burrito with a few chips, mango salsa and a piece of fruit.
Healthy snacking is important between meals. A small snack (100-300 calories) is perfect to curb hunger and keep you from overeating at your next meal.
Here are a few ideas.
·         pretzels or piece of fruit with peanut butter
·         nuts like almonds, cashews, or walnuts
·         string cheese
·         trail mix is another good option.
·         popcorn (little or no butter).
Usually pairing a carbohydrate and a protein source works best.
Develop an Eating Schedule
Without a doubt it is best to plan a fueling schedule that works for you. Consistency is extremely important. Below I’ve provided a sample schedule.
5:00 am     a small pre-workout snack or nothing at all
6:30 am     post-workout breakfast (normal)
10 am        mid-morning snack
12:30 pm   lunch
3 pm         afternoon snack
6 pm         dinner
It is best to spread your calories throughout the day instead of eating a lot at each meal.
Consuming too much at one meal increases the likelihood that those calories will actually be stored as fat.
With a little bit of planning, endurance athletes can use the plate method to improve their overall diet quality. Eating from all the different food groups is important to achieve proper nutrient intake. The key is to establish an eating schedule that works for you.

About the Author:
JJ Mayo is an endurance athlete, a registered dietitian, and a associate professor in the Department of Nutrition at the University of Central Arkansas. His blog, Fuel For Endurance, helps endurance athletes achieve better race results through optimal nutrition. He also just released a sports nutrition online course (Sports Nutrition Made Easy) that has been approved by the Commission on Dietetic Registration for 7 CPEUs.