The food you eat as an athlete is just as important as the training you do. Your diet dictates how you perform, as well as changes in body composition and how much energy you have. The majority of your diet should be based around nutrient-dense foods that provide ample carbohydrates, proteins and healthy fats, though there are certain foods you should avoid for optimal performance.
Running on Empty
Empty calories are those that provide no nutritional benefit. These empty calories take up space in your diet that could be used for more nutrient-dense foods, notes athletic coach Brian Mackenzie. Empty-calorie foods include pastries, candy, desserts and sugary drinks like soda or flavored coffees. Eliminating foods devoid of nutrients makes it far easier to meet your vitamin and mineral requirements, writes Gary Kamen in "Foundations of Exercise Science."
Forgoing the Fiber
Generally, high-fiber foods are beneficial for overall health, but eating too much fiber before competition is a bad idea for athletes. Fiber slows digestion, meaning that too much fiber in your preworkout or pregame meal can cause nausea, bloating and discomfort, notes sports dietitian Enette Larson. Foods like beans, fruit, vegetables and whole grains are best avoided around competition and training times and better saved for other times of the day.
Slow Down the Fast Food
Fast food is another potential pitfall for any aspiring athlete. Burgers, fries and pizzas are often loaded with salt, hydrogenated fats and poor-quality carbohydrates. Sometimes, however, fast food may be the only option, so Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health suggests opting for a grilled chicken sandwich over a greasy burger, salad instead of fries or onion rings, milk or juice instead of soda and frozen yogurt with fruit over other sugary desserts.
Everything in Moderation
While your diet should contain mainly healthy whole foods, such as lean meats, low-fat dairy, different types of fish, fruits, vegetables, beans and whole grains, there is a little room for some not-so-healthy foods. You needn't avoid any food completely, as even elite athletes allow themselves to indulge every now and again. Lolo Jones, for instance, is a fan of hot wings, Usain Bolt reportedly fuels up for races with chicken nuggets and NFL player Osi Umenyiora is a fan of a British classic, fish and chips.
- Brian Mac: Nutrition: What Should I Eat and What Should I Avoid? - Decisions, Decisions!
- Foundations of Exercise Science; Gary Kamen
- The Vegetarian Resource Group: Eating to Exercise and Compete
- Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health: Sports Nutrition for Young Athletes
- Bleacher Report: 25 Athletes Who Love Fast Food