3 Nutrition Rules for Athletes

Confused about where to start your nutrition overhaul? Simplify your diet by following these three simple nutrition rules for athletes.

School Lunch

Athletes are constantly searching for new ways to lose fat, gain muscle and maximize their training. But they need to stop the quick fixes and diet fads that promise fast results. Maintaining them is nearly impossible. Instead, construct a sustainable lifestyle based on a few simple rules. The following suggestions can help you optimize your body composition while keeping you properly fueled for workouts and competition.

Stop Avoiding Carbs

Popularized by trendy diets like South Beach and Atkins, cutting carbohydrates can indeed reduce  your waistline, and strategically limiting carbs can cut an athlete's percentage of body fat. However, according to the Mayo Clinic, if you are an endurance athlete, you should increase intake of carbohydrates during the 72-hour period before competition. (Up for a challenge? Try the Carb Back-Loading Method). Carbs are an athletes main source of energy, so cutting that energy source results in poor performance in games and reduced energy during workouts.

Mind Your GI

The glycemic index measures the amount of insulin the body releases in response to carbohydrates, which in turn determines how much glucose is stored in your cells. (Confused? Read this.) So if you're trying to lose fat and gain muscle without cutting calories, eating smarter is better than eating less. Stop counting calories! Start investigating the glycemic index of the foods you eat. Avoid processed grains, refined sugar, fruits with high sugar content (such as watermelon and bananas), white rice and potatoes, all of which trigger a high GI response. Replace them with  foods like leafy and colorful vegetables (asparagus, broccoli and spinach), legumes, whole grains and lean proteins.

Be a Cheater

No one likes to plateau, but if you maintain a consistent routine, results from dieting or training eventually taper off. With exercise, you can keep pushing your body to gain more strength or endurance by increasing the intensity of your workouts. With dieting, an inverse rule applies. Rather than following a more drastic diet, you can maintain fat loss over a longer period of time by taking regular "cheat days." Tim Ferriss, rogue author of The 4-Hour Body, suggests that in order to lose fat and maintain results over time, it's actually necessary to binge one day a week. Significantly increasing caloric intake for a short period of time causes a spike in insulin, which keeps your metabolic rate high, even after you return to your regular diet. Cheat days also help to keep cravings at bay during the rest of the week. Less guilt is always a better option, and cheating can deliver better long term results.

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