Why Is Eating Healthy Important for Athletes?

Healthy eating is useful for far more than just losing weight. Learn more about how proper nutrition can improve your overall performance as an athlete.

Healthy Salad
Most people associate healthy eating with going on a diet to lose weight. After a weekend of binging, we often joke that Monday is the start of our new diet. But is healthy eating something we need to worry about 24/7? Is it even realistic for today's athletes?

As a nutritionist, I'd argue that healthy eating is not only doable, it is vital for today's athletes. Here are my top five reasons to eat healthy, whether you're trying to lose weight or not:

1. Reduce Risk of Chronic Disease
Nutrient deficiencies, poor food choices and excess bodyweight can lead to a number of chronic conditions, like heart diseasecancerinsulin resistance and diabetes. When your body doesn't get the nutrients it needs, your immune system becomes weak and your risk of illness goes up.

2. Fuel Your Performance
Because food is the body's fuel, proper nutrition leads to better performance. Provide your body with the right nutrients, and you'll be rewarded with higher energy, more muscle and faster recovery.

3. Improve Skin and Bone Health
Improve the appearance of your skin and the strength of your hair and nails with nutrients such as biotin, vitamin E and zinc. Ignore calcium and vitamin D, however, and you'll cause your bones to deteriorate and dramatically increase your risk for osteoporosis.

4. Maintain Energy
Nutrition and bodyweight also play a role in sleep and energy levels. A meal high in refined carbohydrates can leave you feeling sluggish, whereas a meal high in complex carbohydrates, healthy fats and protein can keep you full and focused. Healthy eating is important for high energy levels throughout the day and proper sleep at night.

5. Develop a Healthy Relationship with Food
Learning to eat healthy can help you implement a lifestyle change that is free of food fears, dieting and the cycle of gaining and losing weight. Everyone should enjoy food. If you learn to eat healthy, you'll be able to eat what you love, enjoy special treats guilt-free, consume food that makes you feel your best and balance your plate with adequate portions.

Proper nutrition has benefits that far exceed weight goals. Start your lifestyle of healthy eating by browsing STACK's library of nutrition tips from experts, trainers and pro athletes. Then, tweak your diet for a month to find out how much better a proper diet makes you feel.

Kait Fortunato is a registered dietitian in private practice at Rebecca Bitzer and Associates. She focuses on individualized nutritional recommendations for athletes of all ages and activity levels, and is an active member of the Sports Dietetic Practice Group of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Visit dietitianindc.blogspot.com for running and recipe updates.

Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock