Everyone is watching the Olympics. What do Olympic athletes eat to stay in shape and have the energy to compete? WebMD had a recent article, Eat Like an Olympian: 5 Nutrition Essentials. How can you “eat like an Olympian”?
- Hydration – Olympic athletes stay hydrated. A dehydrated body does not perform well. One of the ways any athlete can improve performance is to stay hydrated. A rule that WebMD recommends is to fill up with fluids equal to half your weight. Thus, if you weigh 160 pounds, you want to take in 80 ounces of fluid. Since there are 8 ounces in a cup, 80 ounces would be 10 cups of liquids a day. But all liquids count – a glass of milk, a glass of ice tea and of course, water.
- Seafood – many health experts recommend eating seafood at least twice a week. How does seafood help athletic performance? Seafood has the omega-3 healthy fats including EPA and DHA. Omega-3 fats are important to athletes because they fight inflammation, aid in recovery from exercise. Omega-3 fatty acids are also good for your health helping to protect against type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
- Carbs, Carbs, Carbs – it is a myth to avoid carbs. To have energy, you want carbs in your diet. A low carb diet is a low energy diet. Olympic athletes are not avoiding their carbs. To ensure you have energy throughout the day, you want to be eating 50-60% of your calories as carbs. This is a surprise to most people, who are always “watching their carbs”. But the type of carbs is important. To ensure peak performance, athletes fuel up on good carbs and time eating their carbs for lasting energy. What are “good” carbs? Fruit, whole grains, beans and legumes. You want carbs at every meal for peak performance and lasting energy throughout the day.
- Protein – athletes know protein is important and protein isn’t usually lacking in an athlete’s diet. But even athletes can be confused as to what foods provide high quality protein. Protein is important especially to athletes as protein helps build up muscle after exercise. To add high quality protein to your diet, focus on fish, seafood, eggs, milk, yogurt, poultry and beef. Many people like Greek yogurt which is higher in protein than regular yogurt. But women may want regular yogurt which provides them more calcium as women’s diets are often low in calcium. After exercising you want to refuel with both protein and carbs and do so within 30-60 minutes of working out. WebMD recommends Greek yogurt smoothie, half a turkey sandwich (whole wheat bread), or half a tuna sandwich on whole wheat bread.
- Progress with exercise – many people start an exercise program and feel bad when they can’t keep up. So many people come to the spinning (bicycle class) I am in each week, only to never return. Why? Probably many reasons but some are they try too hard. Instead of doing 20-30 minutes of spinning, they stay for the hour and wear themselves out, never to return. Start slow and know it takes time to build up endurance.
- Progress, not perfection – even Olympic athletes don’t eat healthy all day, every day. Yes, it is important to eat healthy foods but there is room for indulgences. If you go to MyPlate, you can find what your recommended intake of the five food groups is. But you will also get the number of discretionary calories you can eat every day. Discretionary means – you choose. And you can choose desserts, cookies, candy, ice cream. It is OK to treat yourself. As WebMD notes, Even top athletes allow for occasional indulgences like sweets and fried foods. Most of your diet should be from the 5 food groups focusing on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein and low fat dairy. But you can also enjoy some sweets and salty snacks.
So while watching the Olympics, you can also try to “Eat Like an Olympian” this week.