By Chad Zimmerman
Aside from your part-time job, life has no demands for the next three months. You can sleep, play and eat whenever you want. Okay, so two out of three ain’t bad. You can sleep in and hit your 360 at your convenience. But eating whatever, whenever will stifle your training progress.
With a school schedule no longer dictating your chow time and the summer heat suppressing your appetite, the responsibility is yours to eat on a regular basis so you remain fueled and ready through summer training and games. Dr. Liz Applegate, the Oakland Raiders’ nutritionist and a consultant to professional athletes of all sports, sheds some light on the dos and don’ts of summertime eating.
Being schedule-less in the summer can lead to inconsistent eating. But if you’re trying to stay in shape for your sport, eating consistently is crucial. To keep your eating on track, Applegate suggests getting up to eat breakfast, even if you have the luxury of sleeping in. As the cliché goes, breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Skipping it can throw your eating off the rest of the day.
Since practice and training schedules vary during the summer, eating consistently throughout the day keeps your body ready to perform at any time. Applegate recommends eating two to three snacks in addition to breakfast, lunch and dinner. “It’s good to snack,” she says. “It keeps energy levels up and prevents you from overeating during a meal.”
Protein, dairy and fruit are necessary components of your summer eating plan, according to Applegate. To keep your body stocked with what it needs to rebuild itself after strenuous activity, include a lean protein source in each meal and at least one of your snacks. Make sure to get three to four cups of dairy and three whole pieces of fruit each day to give your body the vitamins and nutrients necessary for top performance and function. “You can’t make a bad choice with fruit. Berries and melons are great summer choices because they’re in season,” Applegate says. “Twenty percent of the fluid you get comes from the foods you eat, and fruits are great source of fluid.” The summer heat and humidity cause more sweating than usual during workouts; adequate fluid intake helps prevent dehydration.
When you fire up the grill, Applegate advises sticking to lean meats. “Stay away from foods like hot dogs—they’re high in fat and low in protein,” she says. “Fish, chicken and lean cuts of meat are excellent choices.” If you like beef, choose top sirloins instead of T-bone or ribeye cuts, which have more fat. And if you’re into burgers, make your own patties with 93 to 96 percent extra lean ground beef instead of using pre-made patties. Salmon, snapper, swordfish and tuna are all great fish options. However, Applegate says to keep your tuna and swordfish intake to no more than once a week. “With larger fish, mercury content is a concern,” she says.
Since leaner cuts of meat have less fat content, they tend to be tougher. To counter that, Applegate suggests marinating the meat in a Ziploc® the night before you cook it. “Marinades with vinegar make the meat more tender,” she says. “And, they’re generally low in fat and add flavor to your meal.”
Shrimp is another great summer grilling option. The easy-to-prepare shellfish is also a great salad topping. “Salads should be a mainstay of your diet. Nutrients—like magnesium and potassium, which are found in dark greens—are essential for proper muscle function,” Applegate says. Add as many vegetables as you can handle to your salads to further enhance their vitamin and nutrient content.
“Inconsistent eating leads to inconsistent performance,” Applegate says. “If you skip meals, you’re going to be tired, fatigue early during exercise and feel sluggish all day. You need to take charge of your eating habits. It’s your body; it’s your performance; and it’s time for you to make food choices with that in mind.”