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STACK Performance Nutrition: Best Sources of Protein for Athletes
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(Photo via Summer Savers)
Toning up. Slimming down. Lowering fat. Upping lean muscle mass. Increasing clean protein. Decreasing processed foods.
Eating for maximum performance can be overwhelming. So SportFuel, Inc. founder Julie Burns, MS, RD, CCN, sat down with STACK to sort the good from the bad, the lean from the fatty.
Burns has shown the pros—including members of the Chicago Bears, Blackhawks, White Sox and Bulls—how to enhance their performance by fueling themselves with the right balance of foods. Athletes have different energy needs and goals, so Burns creates a unique, detailed eating plan for each client.
For a high school athlete who wants to reduce body fat while increasing lean muscle, Burns created a sample plan. "Anyone who eats fewer calories than are needed to maintain weight will lose weight—regardless of whether the calories come from protein, carbohydrates or fat;" Burns says. "However, the composition of the weight loss—losing body fat and retaining lean muscle—can be improved when it is done properly."
Muscle-Building Meal Plan
The sample eating plan is for an athlete who strength trains four times a week and conditions for 45 to 60 minutes four to five times a week. To maintain weight based on age, sex, height, weight and activity level, the athlete has to take in 4,100 calories a day. To lose weight, Burns reduces caloric intake by 1,000 to 3,100.
Burns also recommends taking a daily supplement containing a high quality combination essential fatty acid that includes EPA, DHA, GLA and CLA, a multivitamin and chelated mineral supplement.
Portion size and timing of meals are essential to making the plan work. Anyone undertaking this meal plan should use a food scale and measuring cups until they learn proper portioning. At the end of the 10-week period, the athlete will have lost 21 pounds of fat, gained five pounds of lean muscle and will be highly energized.
Although designed for a specific athlete at a specific weight with certain goals, the plan's guidelines and philosophy can be easily adapted for any hard-training athlete.
Most athletes need help understanding the right amounts and types of food or calories necessary to fuel growth, training and performance. "When I advise athletes, I first work with them to get rid of processed foods such as white flour, refined sugars, artificial coloring, trans fats, additives and chemicals," Burns says.. "We then replace empty calorie foods and unnecessary chemicals with whole foods. Think oatmeal versus Lucky Charms."
Foods every athlete should eat to build muscle
Burns' clients stock up on organic, free-range meats, omega-3 fortified eggs, organic fruits and vegetables, and the healthy fats found in raw nuts, seeds, avocados, organic dairy (if tolerated), organic olive oil and virgin coconut oil. "When athletes nourish themselves well, their cells get fueled and they feel energetic and able to perform at their highest level," Burns says.. "The right nutrient balance will help control appetite and weight naturally, enable detoxification, and improve energy, vitality, immune function and overall health."
Burns also prescribes large amounts of water throughout the day. For the number of ounces of water you need, divide your weight in half. For example, a 150-pound athlete needs 75 ounces of water. In addition, you need to replace fluids lost during training.
Foods every athlete should avoid to build muscle
Burns recommends avoiding processed foods and staying clear of hydrogenated oils and trans fats. Artificial fats undermine performance by negatively affecting the immune system and brain. Avoid white flour foods like pasta, bagels, candy and sweetened cereals. The calories in these foods lack important trace minerals and vitamins. Read nutritional labels on food packages to monitor your intake of undesirable ingredients.
Reducing body fat
To reduce body fat, Burns uses a calorie-controlled plan high in "clean" protein—for example, free-range and organic foods, healthy fats and non-starchy vegetables and moderate in whole carbohydrates such as fruits, starchy vegetables and whole grains. Clean protein foods encourage fat burning.
Some athletes worry that moderate to low carb diets will leave them short of energy. According to Burns, however, 66 percent of protein slowly converts to glycogen, which helps restock reserves. She says, "This shift in food choice is usually done over a two-to six-week period—or longer depending on the athlete. Most athletes are used to eating a highly processed, high carb diet. Their bodies need time to adapt to burning more healthy fats."
Sample Muscle-Building Meal Plan
Breakfast (600 calories)
Smoothie: 3/4 cup organic fruit
2 tbsp ground flax seed
1 1/2 tbsp flax or borage oil
3 oz organic coconut milk
1 scoop (30 grams) protein powder* (high quality whey, egg, soy or rice)
Water/ice as needed
An alternative 600-calorie breakfast without the protein powder:
2 large organic omega-3 fortified eggs
1/4 cup greens
2 cups organic berries
4 oz organic nitrate-free Canadian bacon
1 tsp ground flax (sprinkle on toast)
1 medium slice sourdough bread (whole grain ideal)
1/2 tbsp organic butter
Post-Training (90 calories)
2 scoops (60 grams) protein powder* (whey, egg, soy, rice) in water
* The protein powder that Julie Burns uses has 11 grams of protein, 9 grams of carbs, 2 grams of fat and no fructose or artificial additives.
Lunch (900 calories)
8 oz chicken or other lean meat
1 medium piece sourdough bread (70 calories per slice)
2 cups tossed green salad with tomatoes, cucumbers and onion
1 tbsp dressing (Caesar or vinaigrette)
2 cups broccoli or other non-starchy vegetable
1 tbsp organic butter
1/4 avocado for sandwich spread or a bit less than 1 tbsp real mayo
Snack (400-440 calories)
2 real food energy bars (nuts, fruits, etc.) without artificial additives
20 minutes before dinner (200 calories)
2 tbsp organic virgin coconut oil (to curb hunger and burn fat)
Dinner (900 calories)
Eat dinner no later than three hours before bed
1.5 cups asparagus or other non-starchy vegetable
1 tbsp organic butter
8 oz organic, free-range beef or other meat
1.5 cups brown rice
1 tbsp olive oil