Whether you’re training to dominate on the football field or want to beat your best 10-mile time, it’s important to recognize the role that food plays in athletic performance. Tip #1: Put down the soda! Sound obvious? The following tips from sports nutrition and fitness experts explain the why behind common pregame food rituals and let you know how to get the most out of the healthy fuel that you put into your body.
Eat carbohydrates: Research shows that athletes who eat a diet high in carbohydrates can maintain optimal performance longer than athletes who eat low-carbohydrate diets, according to the Henry Ford Health System’s Sports Medicine department. Leslie Bonci, director of sports nutrition at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, recommends filling your plate with 1/3 protein, 1/3 starches (i.e., rice or potatoes) and 1/3 fruits and vegetables. You should focus on carbohydrates and healthy fats as between-meal snacks.
Whole grains are a great source of carbohydrates and give your muscles the energy they need to recover after a workout. Protein from sources like fish, chicken, lean beef and beans decrease muscle soreness and provide staying power. If you need a quick snack during practice, try salty foods like pretzels to replenish sodium lost through sweat.
Avoid soda: We all know soda is bad for your teeth and waistline, but did you also know the high levels of sugar and carbonation force your body to work harder and sap energy? Your body depends on good hydration to perform and recover during intense training. Instead, drink water and replenish with sports beverages such as Gatorade or Powerade that provide energy-giving calories to active players.
Time it right: Mitzi Dulan, who spent eight years as team nutritionist with the Kansas City Chiefs, advises athletes to eat a big meal three hours before hitting the field. Ideally, this meal should be high in protein and low in fat – and familiar to you! Avoid new foods on game day, since you never know how your body is going to react. In general, low-fat options such as eggs and lean steak digest more quickly and might be ideal items to add to pregame menus.
Next step: Check your pantry to make sure you have the items you need to fuel up to play! Need to stock up? Remember that Michigan Blues members get discounts to healthy retailers across Michigan, including Plum Market, thanks to Healthy Blue Xtras. We’re here to help you play – and save – big!
Photo credit: kyle tsui