To become the best athlete possible, along with maintaining optimal wellness, you must supply your body with the proper nutrients, minerals, and vitamins. Optimal nutrition is vital for all athletes, but it’s especially critical for young athletes due to the demands of their sport and to support their continued growth and developmental needs.
It’s not realistic to “eat clean” all the time ideally, nor would that make for an enjoyable life. However, you must be adhering to a solid nutritional strategy most of the time. While there are a plethora of dietary philosophies, at the foundational level of any dietary regimen lies a few fundamental principles that transcend all of them. As you look to take your game to another level, adopt these four basic principles of solid and effective nutrition.
Eliminate Processed Meats
Processed meats such as roast beef, hot dogs, sausage, pepperoni, beef jerky, and various deli meats are popular go-to options for many due to their convenience. But, while convenient, these preservative-laden meats shouldn’t be at the top of your list when it comes to ideal sources of protein.
Eating processed meats is associated with an array of chronic illnesses such as high blood pressure and many others. In addition, studies over the years have indicated that people who frequently eat processed meat are more likely to get these ailments.
As an athlete, whatever you put into your body has to be as clean as possible as input directly leads to output. While you may not notice anything externally initially, consuming foods with questionable ingredients could wreak havoc internally over time that will then weaken your body and performance later down the road.
To err more on the side of caution, choose foods such as grilled chicken, eggs, and various types of fish for your protein sources.
Sugary Foods and Cereals
The average cereal is highly refined or processed. The biggest problem with sugary foods and cereals is the lack of nutritional value. It’s essentially empty calories that contain very little of various essential minerals and vitamins.
Instead of essential minerals and vitamins, these foods contain dyes, preservatives, and other ingredients that don’t support athletes’ health and performance goals or overall growth and developmental needs.
As someone who loved cereal and wouldn’t miss a morning without a bowl, you can substitute your cereal with oatmeal, healthy cereal alternatives, or my personal favorite now, a smoothie with a collection of fruits and vegetables plus a scoop of protein for a complete meal. Each source will contain various vitamins and minerals, plus won’t lead to a high insulin spike from the excess sugar.
We live in a world built on convenience. For example, you don’t have to chop up your vegetables or meat if you don’t want to. Another convenience area includes some of our favorite carbohydrates, such as rice and pasta that are prepackaged. You can also throw in various protein bars and foods masquerading as healthy alternatives.
One of the most significant issues that I learned after consuming these foods is that prepackaged rice and pasta are often very high in sodium, plus may have some other hidden ingredients that aren’t ideal for an athlete to preserve the product.
While it may take a few extra minutes, it’s best to buy your rice and pasta plain and then season them to your likening. You can include various items such as garlic, lemon, basil, and many other herbs and spices.
While additional salt is needed for many athletes due to sweating, it’s better to add this back in through sources such as sea salt or a targeted drink mix precisely for athletes instead of a repacked box of rice, pasta, and other prepackaged foods.
Sugary Sports and Energy Drinks
Most energy drinks and conventional sports drinks contain an array of preservatives, synthetic ingredients, dyes, and many other processed items that you wouldn’t want to put inside your body.
Most sports drinks contain a high amount of sugar without properly replenishing your electrolytes or hydration. And while energy drinks may provide a quick pick-me-up, they often provide a crash in energy just as fast, along with containing ample amounts of unnecessary sugar.
And in some cases, this can be the very cause of dehydration, which is detrimental to an athlete’s training and performance.
Every athlete is going to have specific needs for their particular sport. Therefore, there is no one-size-fits-all template for athletes when it comes to nutrition. But, while there isn’t a universal nutritional template, there is a universal nutritional foundation that all dietary methods follow. These four principles above are a great start to solidifying that foundation.