If you want to perform your best and feel your strongest—during a game or race, in the gym, or just about anywhere else— your diet matters. The things you eat affect your body, and not always in a good way. In fact, some of the choices you make in the kitchen or at the dinner table could sabotage your performance. Below are five bad eating habits common among athletes, along with suggestions to help you make better decisions.
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Bad Habit #1: Not Balancing Carbohydrates and Proteins
A common myth says athletes should load up on carbohydrates before a big game, race or workout. Even though carbs are your muscles’ preferred fuel source, athletes who are about to take on a big event will do better to pair those carbs with protein. Eating just carbs can cause a spike in blood sugar, leading to a crash that will leave you weak and fatigued later in the day. Adding protein will stabilize your blood sugar and provide you with a more consistent flow of energy.
Try this: Three to four hours before your game or workout, chow down on a moderately sized meal that provides 1 gram of protein for every 4 grams of carbs.
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Bad Habit #2: Eating Dirty
You’ve probably heard people say you should eat organic produce. Well, here’s one more reason to go organic: many of the pesticides sprayed onto foods contain hormone-disrupting chemicals that prevent the body from producing real hormones.
Try this: Opt for organic produce and meat whenever possible. Here’s a list of common pesticides and their corresponding effects on the human body.
Bad Habit #3: Eating a Bland Diet
We’re not talking about bland flavor here (although that probably wouldn’t be great either.) Brightly colored fruits and vegetables have nutrients and antioxidants that help you stay healthy and perform at your best. If you’re eating produce of similar colors, you may be deficient in certain vitamins and minerals, which can cause you to feel weak.
Try this: Expand your spectrum. Swap iceberg lettuce for romaine, replace green peppers with yellow and orange peppers, or switch strawberries for raspberries, blackberries or blueberries.
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Bad Habit #4: Inadequate or Improper Fluid Intake
If you gulp too many sports drinks and not enough water, you risk feeling fatigued due to blood sugar crashes and dehydration. Sports drinks can be high in sodium, which is necessary when you’re sweating, but not so great when you’re on the couch. Dehydration leads to fatigue because it impacts the flow of oxygen to the brain and causes the heart to work harder to pump oxygen to your bodily organs, making you more tired and less alert.
Try this: Drink close to 100 ounces of water per day to stay hydrated and to avoid fatigue, cramps and other issues that accompany dehydration.
Bad Habit #5: Inconsistent Meals and Snacks
Skipping meals, or going a long time between meals, slows down your metabolism, which makes you feel tired later in the day. Undereating can also leave you without energy to maximize your athletic potential.
Try this: Eat every three to four hours, and create meals that are approximately 20 percent protein, 50 percent carbohydrate and 30 percent fat (unless you’re loading up for a game, in which case you want to increase the carbs even higher).
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