Eating Like an Athlete

When I work with athletes, I’m always encouraged by the acute awareness of how nutrition influences their performance. I also notice that knowing and doing can be two different things, and many athletes are quite confused by all of the conflicting information about sports nutrition. My goal is always to try to simplify the recommendations and bring the attention back to the food. As with any client, I like to work on building a healthy relationship with food and encourage intelligent, intuitive eating.

I recently did a nutrition talk for the Cascade Bicycle Club, and thought it might be useful to summarize some of the more salient points from that talk. This is a culmination of recommendations from the 2010 Olympic Committee Medical Commission consensus statement on sports nutrition, the American Dietetic Association’s position on nutrition for athletic performance, and my own experience from my private practice.

Energy Intake

  • Requirements depend on numerous variable including:
    • Gender, age, weight, height
    • Training load
    • Metabolism
    • Genetics
  • Varies from day to day

Determining Energy Needs

  • Indirect calorimetry measuring VO2 and VCO2 (usually done in a pulmonary lab)
  • Body composition tests (underwater weighing, BodPod, Bioimpedence Analysis)
  • Calculations based on gender, age, height and weight

Example: (Mifflin Equation)

For men: (10 x weight in kg) + (6.25 x height in cm) – (5 x age) + 5 = REE

For women:(10 x weight in kg) + (6.25 x height in cm) – (5 x age) – 161 = REE

Multiply the REE by an activity factor ranging from 1.1 – 1.9 (most athletes who are training for 2+ hours per day will be in the 1.7 – 1.8 range)

Daily Carb Recommendations

  • 5 – 7 g/kg/day for moderate-intensity exercise for 60 – 90 minutes per day
  • 7 – 12 g/kg/day for moderate- to high-intensity endurance exercise for 1 – 3 hours per day
  • 10 – 12 g/kg/day for extreme endurance exercise for 4 – 6 hours per day (eg,Tour de France)

Pre-Exercise Carb Recommendations

The pre-exercise meal should contain enough carbohydrate to help keep blood sugar stable and maximize glycogen stores. It should contain a moderate amount of protein and should consist of familiar foods. Below are some guidelines based on the timing of the meal before exercise.

  • Consume 1 g/kg one hour before exercise
  • Consume 2 g/kg two hours before exercise
  • Consume 3 g/kg three hours before exercise
  • Consume 4 to 4.5 g/kg four hours before exercise

Sample menu for 140-pound (63 kilogram) athlete x 4 = 252 g carbohydrate

Four hours before exercise:

2 whole grain waffles with 2 Tbsp. cashew butter + ¼ cup pure maple syrup

Fruit Salad (1 cup low-fat vanilla yogurt, 1 sliced banana, ½ cup blueberries, ½ cup strawberries, ½ cup slivered almonds)

1 – 16 oz. Naked Juice Pomegranate Blueberry Antioxidant Smoothie

Examples of High Quality Complex Carbs

  • Whole grains
    • Quinoa
    • Brown rice
    • Spelt
    • Farro
  • Beans
  • Nuts & Seeds
  • Vegetables
  • Fruit

Protein Requirements

  • Requirements vary based on:
    • Exercise type and intensity
    • Carb availability
    • Training state
    • Gender and age
  • Endurance athletes require 1.2 – 1.4 g/kg per day
  • Needs can be met by consuming a varied diet that meets
  • energy needs
  • Vegans may require protein supplementation

Examples of High Quality Protein

  • Wild caught fish
  • Organic poultry
  • Grass-fed beef
  • Eggs
  • Dairy products
  • Beans + whole grains
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Soy foods (edamame, tofu, tempeh, miso)

Fat Requirements

  • 20 – 30% of energy intake
  • 4 – 5 servings per day
  • More omega-3-rich foods

Examples of High Quality Fats

  • Fish
  • Olives
  • Avocados
  • Nuts & Seeds
  • Healthy oils (olive oil, coconut oil, flax seed oil)

Breakfast Ideas

  • Egg or tofu scramble
  • Breakfast burrito
  • Steel cut oatmeal with almond butter and fruit
  • Yogurt parfait
  • Fruit smoothie with protein powder
  • Whole grain toast with hummus, avocado and tomatoes

Lunch Ideas

  • Salad with protein (beans, tofu, canned salmon, egg) + flax oil vinaigrette
  • Whole grain pita with hummus and veggies
  • Soup (bean soups are great!)
  • Canned salmon with veggies in a whole grain wrap
  • Leftovers from dinner

Snack Ideas

  • Trail mix
  • Nuts
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Dried fruit
  • Protein bars
  • Nut butter + dried fruit + coconut + rolled oats
  • Crispy chickpeas (toss canned garbanzo beans in oil, add salt, bake at 350 degrees F for 40-50 minutes, until crispy)

Dinner Ideas

  • Fish cooked in parchment or nori wrapped salmon
  • with sauteed greens
  • Roasted chicken with potatoes, carrots and Brussels sprouts
  • Curried lentils with brown rice and steamed broccoli
  • Crockpot chili and mixed green salad
  • Turkey meatloaf with mashed yams and steamed Bok choy

Key Take Aways

  • Eat like an athlete year round
  • Eat a wide variety of nutrient dense foods
  • Incorporate high quality protein into every meal and snack
  • Eat mindfully and intuitively
  • Listen to your BODY WISDOM