Natural Food and Beverage Choices for Athletes

January 29, 2013 | Jim Carpentier

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In athletics, speed is key. But when it comes to nutrition, athletes who rely excessively on "quick" meals and beverages—e.g., fast food, energy bars and protein shakes—are way off key. Although they are fast and convenient, these options usually lack important vitamins, minerals, fats, protein, complex carbohydrates and antioxidants—all the things you need to boost your recovery from exercise and sports, enhance your immune system and heighten your mental and physical performance. (Check out Your Guide to Optimal Recovery.)

The healthiest approach is too consume foods and beverages that are minimally processed and contain few additives. A truly balanced diet has all the basic food groups: carbohydrates (fruits, vegetables and wholesome grains); protein (lean meat, fish, poultry, eggs, beans, nuts, seeds, and dairy); and essential fats (avocados, olive oil). These foods supply all the nutrients required for physical and mental health and for optimizing sports performance. (See also Iron Chef Michael Symon: Eat Natural Foods for Improved Performance.)

Below are my recommendations for healthy food and beverage choices instead of unhealthy ones.

Choose Water, Milk, Chocolate Milk and Decaffeinated Black or Green Tea Instead of Soda and Sugary Juices

Water, black and green tea boost mental and physical performance, speed recovery, and enhance fat-burning metabolism. Protein-rich milk and chocolate milk build muscle after and between workouts.

Choose Fresh, Dried, or Frozen Fruits and Fresh or Frozen Vegetables Instead of Chips, Cookies, Fries and Candy

Fruits and veggies contain those plentiful antioxidants and anti-inflammatory substances that keep your immune system in top shape to prevent nasty colds, flu and other illnesses that confine you in the bedroom instead of in the classroom, weight room, or on the field. Plus, fruits and veggies help you recover faster from exercise and sports

Eat The Whole Egg  for Muscle-Building Protein Instead of Just the Egg White

Egg yolks have immune-system-boosting vitamins and minerals and antioxidants for eye health and recovery from sports and exercise.

Choose Olive Oil, Peanut Oil, Safflower Oil or Butter Instead of Margarine

Margarine contains harmful trans-fats that cause inflammation and damage arteries. Olive, peanut and safflower oils have heart-friendly antioxidants; and strong hearts are necessary for both athletes and non-athletes.

Choose Lean Meats, Fish and Poultry Instead of Hot Dogs, Salami and Cold Cuts

Processed meats have unhealthy preservatives and are generally high in sodium, which can raise blood pressure in some individuals.

Choose 100% Whole Grains Instead of Refined Carbohydrates

Go with the more natural and nutrient-dense 100% rolled oats, 100% whole wheat bread or brown rice over  processed sugary cereals, white bread and white rice.

Additional Tips to Consider

  • Read the list of ingredients. Generally, the shorter the list, the more natural the product. For example, a jar of natural peanut butter contains only peanuts and salt, with no added oils or sugars. (See Insider Tips on How to Read a Nutrition Facts Label.)
  • Eat more seafood. Fish such as tuna and salmon have heart-healthy and brain-boosting omega-3 fats.
  • Eat plain or lightly salted nuts and seeds. Eat nuts and seeds directly out of their shells or lightly salted for flavor. Avoid processed products such as "honey-roasted" or "chocolate covered" nuts, which are higher in calories and sugar.
Topics: DIET
Jim Carpentier
- Jim Carpentier, CSCS, is a certified strength and conditioning specialist, New Jersey-licensed massage therapist, and a health/fitness writer. He currently serves as Associate Health and...
Jim Carpentier
- Jim Carpentier, CSCS, is a certified strength and conditioning specialist, New Jersey-licensed massage therapist, and a health/fitness writer. He currently serves as Associate Health and...

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