Proper nutrition is essential for physical development and athletic performance. Consider the physical demands placed on you by practice; competition; strength, speed, agility, plyometric, and conditioning training; and your rigorous schedule. Healthy eating habits play a valuable role in your pursuit of excellent performance.
Coaches are responsible for providing athletes with the support they require to be successful. A good coach provides the education, assessment, and support necessary to reshape nutritional habits. A coach who promotes the use of convenient, healthy snacks, recovery foods, and vitamin and mineral supplements, and who requires water bottles for every athlete demonstrates a commitment to the development of optimal nutrition habits. This support makes it possible for players to achieve a lifestyle that includes proper nutrition choices.
Performance nutrition education focuses on three primary goals: proper meal planning, balance and variety in food choices, and positive eating habits.
1. Learn proper meal planning and nutrient timing to improve your preparation and performance. Every day, eat breakfast within one hour of waking up. Eat small, frequent meals throughout the day, ideally five or six; try to eat every three to four hours. Drink water throughout the day—with every meal, before bed, and when you wake up. Make pre- and postworkout nutrition a priority.
2. Incorporate balance and variety with each meal to ensure healthy food choices. Choose meals composed of more carbohydrate than protein and more protein than fat. Substitute calorie-dense carbohydrate sources such as bread with nutrient-dense choices such as fruits and vegetables. Eat a variety of colors. Limit obviously poor choices such as fried foods, salad dressings and sauces, soft drinks, sweets, and alcohol.
3. Avoid extreme eating to promote positive eating habits and optimal food choices. Dieting doesn’t work, and fads don’t last. Carbohydrate is essential to supply energy for training and recovery, and everyone’s diet should include some fat.
Top 25 Food Choices in a Performance-Based Diet
1. Water. Water is the single most essential component of a performance-based diet. It makes up 80 percent of your body and accounts for 65 percent of your weight.
2. Beans. Top-ranked carbohydrate sources such as green, black, kidney, lima, and pinto beans provide protein, fiber, and minerals essential to overall metabolism.
3. Poultry. Top-ranked protein sources such as baked, roasted, or grilled skinless chicken and turkey breasts contribute an excellent portion of protein with an unmatched protein-to-fat ratio.
4. Green leafy vegetables. Carbohydrate sources such as broccoli and spinach and leafless green, red, and yellow peppers have antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals and also deliver significant amounts of fiber.
5. Citrus fruits and juices. Carbohydrate sources such as oranges, grapefruit, and tangerines supply the antioxidant vitamin C, potassium, and fiber and are easily carried as wholesome snacks.
6. Grilled or baked fish. Fish such as salmon, tuna, sardines, and herring deliver significant amounts of protein and essential omega-3 fatty acids. These can be found in prepackaged selections.
7. Bananas. This carbohydrate is an excellent source of potassium and fiber with very little fat contribution and comes naturally wrapped for easy storage and transport as a wholesome snack.
8. Nonfat dairy products. Dairy products such as skim milk and yogurt deliver a solid protein-to-fat ratio and are an excellent source of calcium for strong bones.
9. Berries. Carbohydrate choices such as strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries provide solid amounts of antioxidants (specifically, vitamin C) and potassium with no fat content.
10. Whole grains. Carbohydrate sources such as cereals and oatmeal and whole grain rice, bagels, and sandwich breads such as wheat or rye provide excellent amounts of fiber, iron, folic acid, and zinc.
11. Lean beef. Meats such as flank sirloin and filet steak plus roast beef and lean ground beef supply a good protein-to-fat ratio, B-complex vitamins, and iron.
12. Sweet potatoes. This carbohydrate is more of a vegetable than a starch. It contributes more protein, vitamins, and minerals than a regular potato.
13. Sport drinks. Electrolyte-replacement drinks quickly replenish lost water and muscle glycogen stores.
14. Tomatoes and tomato sauce. Carbohydrate in the form of tomatoes or tomato sauce can be included in salads, pizza, or pasta sauce, or taken as a drink. Tomatoes deliver solid amounts of potassium, fiber, vitamin C, carotenes, and lycopene, which can provide a powerful defense against several forms of cancer.
15. Nuts. Peanuts, almonds, walnuts, and pecans supply a solid amount of protein with essential fatty acids and the antioxidant vitamin E. Nuts are a wholesome and mobile snack.
16. Fleshy fruits. Carbohydrate selections such as apples, grapes, peaches, and plums supply a good amount of fiber and significant contributions of water but fewer vitamins and minerals than fruits such as citrus fruits, bananas, and berries.
17. Eggs. Eggs deliver a solid protein-to-fat ratio with essential fatty acids.
18. Starchy vegetables. Carbohydrate sources such as peas, carrots, corn, squash, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, and potatoes provide a good source of fiber and essential vitamins and minerals.
19. Low-fat dairy products. Foods such as 2 percent milk, reduced-fat cheeses, and regular yogurt supply a good protein-to-fat ratio while providing an excellent source of calcium.
20. Recovery shakes. This carbohydrate source provides an optimal ratio of carbohydrate to protein to ensure muscle protein and glycogen resynthesis. Recovery shakes are an affordable and transportable meal supplement or replacement.
21. Lean pork and ham. These choices provide a solid protein-to-fat ratio if trimmed and prepared either baked or grilled rather than fried.
22. Dried fruit. Dried fruit is a carbohydrate source that is longer lasting and more easily transported than fresh berries, bananas, or fleshy fruits. However, fruit loses some vitamins and minerals in the drying process.
23. Peanut butter. Peanut butter has a solid protein-to-fat ratio and no cholesterol. It is inexpensive and ready to eat and is an excellent complement to many of the other top 25 choices.
24. Grains. Carbohydrate in the form of pasta, tortillas, pita bread, cornbread, whole grain crackers, and popcorn provide good sources of fiber, iron, zinc, and folic acid.
25. Olive oil. As the only fat source to make the top 25 food choices, olive oil is the healthiest fat source. It is an excellent substitution for heavier, more saturated salad dressings and cooking oils.