As an athlete, you likely know a lot about managing your nutrition, but that doesn’t mean you’re perfect all the time. And in fact, your good intentions might just lead to some common nutrition mistakes. Here's how to avoid these missteps and get the biggest benefits from what you eat and drink.
1. Never eating late.
You might follow the rule not to eat before bedtime, and that makes sense, unless you’re strength training, working out later in the day, or want a little help falling asleep. Research has shown that getting protein before bed leads to increases in muscle mass and strength gains, enhancing your results from training.
If you routinely train in the afternoon or evening, you can speed up recovery by getting some protein and unprocessed carbs before bed. Include some colorful veggies for fiber and a variety of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, which help manage inflammation.
And some foods, rich in magnesium and melatonin, can even help you sleep. These include almonds, bananas, walnuts, sunflower seeds, tart cherries, and other berries. So while you still shouldn’t save the majority of your calories for late night, don’t be afraid to get helpful nutrients closer to bedtime.
2. Not balancing your breakfast.
Eating breakfast at all is good, but a balanced breakfast is best. While you may not be one of the 40 percent of Americans who skip breakfast altogether, there’s a good chance you’re someone who chows down on cold cereal, the most commonly consumed breakfast food.
Or maybe you’re into other carb-rich foods like oatmeal, pancakes, and waffles. An abundance of carbs in the morning spikes blood sugar, which can affect your energy and mood, cause headaches, fatigue, and hunger, and lead to weight gain. Breakfasts loaded with carbs also appear to increase the rate of post-meal hunger compared to a balanced meal.
Including a source of protein and fat will stabilize your blood sugar. It can be as simple as adding a half cup of Greek yogurt or a couple eggs. Start balancing your breakfast, and you’ll keep energy up and steady throughout the morning.
3. Sugar-bombing in pursuit of antioxidants.
Antioxidants can do a lot for your health, and including them in your diet is a smart thing to do. But don’t bother with sweetened juices and other sugary products that tout antioxidants — consuming this extra sugar directly offsets the benefits.
The good news is it’s easy to find the anti-inflammatory and disease-fighting goodness of antioxidants without all the added sugar in whole foods like berries, dark green veggies, and nuts.
If you’re looking for packaged foods that supposedly have antioxidants, check the nutrition facts and look for less than 30 grams of sugar total. So, no Jamba Juice acai bowls with more than double that amount. Instead, have a handful of raspberries balanced with some ricotta on whole-wheat toast.
Food sensitivities vary greatly from person to person, so tailoring nutrition to individual needs is the right thing to do. But if you‘re thinking about a gluten-free, dairy-free, or low-carb diet, there should be a scientific reason for it. Only eliminate what you have a known allergy to.
If you’re experiencing digestive issues, skin problems, mood or weight changes and want to identify the cause, start a food and activity log and note times and symptoms. See if you can pinpoint recurrent symptoms around a particular food, take that food out, and see if the symptoms go away.
Trial and error can get you on the right track, but if you’re still having issues, see a registered dietitian or medical professional.
5. Believing marketing claims.
Reading food labels on packaging before gobbling up the contents is a healthy first step. But don’t get bamboozled by all the claims you see. It’s easy to be misled by the bright food labels yelling “natural,” “low fat,” and “detox.”
That’s why you have to remind yourself, it’s all marketing — with the primary goal to increase sales, not support your healthy lifestyle. Here are some common marketing claims that you should always question, and how to check them.
“Natural” isn’t well regulated, but the aim is to eliminate artificial or synthetic ingredients. Look at the ingredient list. Do you recognize the ingredients as foods found in nature?
“Fresh” should be on recently prepared foods but is often found on packaged foods. Check the date. If it’s really fresh, it should be “Best Used By” a date very close to the day you picked it up.
“Low fat” means the food is low in fat, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t high in some undesirable ingredients. Look at the sugar content, something typically added to offset the flavor lost when reducing fat. Fat isn’t the enemy unless it’s trans fat. (Aim for minimal added sugar.)
“Good source of protein” denotes that the food contains 10-19 percent of the percent daily value of protein. Read the fine print. Often foods with this label are only really a “good source of protein” when you add another food like milk.
“Detox” promotes the idea that the food will flush your system of impurities. A healthy body detoxifies with its working organs. Specific foods won’t effectively enhance this process.
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