Guest Post by Robin Mungall Fitness Trainer: Alissa Liska, BSc, RHN-Holistic Nutritionist, AFLCA-RTSL
When it comes to designing a sports nutrition diet, there are many ways of doing so. Depending on the sport, athletes will have a diverse range of energy and nutrient needs to consider. There are countless sources from which they can obtain such energy in the form of whole food and supplements, but certain sources will have far more benefits to one’s overall health, while others may actually cause harm. This article provides a summary of some of the major recommendations for a sports nutrition diet created by an RHN-Holistic Nutritionist, which may differ from a more traditional sports nutritionist.
Quality Whole Foods First
One of the first things athletes should understand after speaking to an RHN-Holistic Nutritionist is that obtaining energy and nutrients from high-quality, whole foods should be their main focus. The sports nutrition market is flooded with supplements and packaged “foods” that are advertised to be even better than normal foods because they are “sugar-free, fat-free, or calorie-free” or fortified with ridiculous amounts of highly processed protein and various vitamins and minerals. Anything that is created in a laboratory or food production plant will never be a substitute for the real thing: legitimate, real foods. “Diet foods” are the farthest thing from such and nothing but chemical concoctions that our bodies have no idea what to do with. The many carcinogens, food dyes, preservatives, and artificial sweeteners found in such products will only negatively impact an athlete’s training and fitness goals and overall health in general.
It is important to keep things as simple as possible for athletes, who are often very short on time with their training and work schedules. Therefore, the “Dirty Dozen” and “Clean Fifteen” fruit and vegetable lists are a very informative starting point for any sports nutrition diet. Choosing organic for fruits and vegetables from the “Dirty Dozen” list at minimum can help to greatly reduce pesticide, herbicide, and toxin ingestion in a more financially friendly manner. Furthermore, purchasing produce in-season and locally at farmer’s markets if possible, is not only a way to maximize freshness, taste, and nutrient consumption, but also provides greater variety than a typical, very repetitive sports nutrition diet where the same foods are often consumed over and over again. Choosing a variety of different colored fruits and vegetables will ensure a much more balanced intake of vitamins, nutrients, and phytochemicals that are critical in assisting an athlete’s body to grow, repair, and recover.
Optimal Sources for Proteins, Carbohydrates, and Fats
Depending on an athlete’s preference, hormone/antibiotic-free meat is also recommended as much as possible, as well as organic yogurt and eggs if consumed; vegetarian protein sources such as spirulina, hemp, lentils, beans, organic tofu and tempeh, quinoa, nuts & nut butters are also recommended over highly processed, non-GMO soy products that may be seen as more convenient for vegetarian athletes to meet their protein needs with. Whole grains, leafy greens, cruciferous vegetables, beets, yams, sweet potatoes, and other starchy vegetables along with fresh or frozen fruits can easily provide for an athlete’s carbohydrate needs while supplying an abundance of nutrients and antioxidants. Healthy fat options include cold-pressed oils (flax, hemp, avocado, olive, Udo’s) for salad dressings, drizzling on foods for flavor, or even adding to smoothies, as well as avocados, nuts and natural nut butters, seeds, and using coconut oil for cooking at higher temperatures. Overall, an RHN-Holistic Nutritionist’s approach focuses on meeting an athlete’s macronutrient needs in a very uncomplicated fashion with minimally processed and real foods in order to create a sound sports nutrition diet.
Supplements: Not Necessary
With certain sports or training goals, supplements may complement an already balanced, whole-foods sports nutrition diet but just because one is active, does not mean one needs to purchase capsules or powders with incredibly attractive claims of performance or aesthetic enhancement. Ensuring adequate hydration with pure water, a high-quality multivitamin/mineral, probiotics, and an omega 3 supplement is often all the average individual may require for ensuring optimal body functions. Some athletes may look into adding a greens formula for extra antioxidant consumption if training volume is quite high, as well as a joint formula to help minimize the effects of intense training and competition schedules. Vegan or vegetarian protein blends are less inflammatory and can help with meeting increased protein requirements if needed. High quality protein powders can be used for quick and convenient meal replacements in the form of smoothies for early-morning, pre-, or post-workout meals and can also help certain athletes with higher caloric needs. Digestive enzymes can also be recommended to assist these individuals’ digestive systems in breaking down larger amounts of food. If an athlete frequently encounters other gastrointestinal issues, a modified diet may be implicated that temporarily removes common inflammatory foods such as gluten, pork, dairy, eggs, soy, and sugar. Small amounts of each potential inflammatory food would then be reintroduced one at a time and any negative symptoms (headaches, GI upset, bloating, gas, fatigue, etc) are noted; athletes can then choose to modify their consumption of a specific food if negative symptoms arise. Furthermore, a holistic approach to designing a sports nutrition diet also takes into account how an athlete is feeling, both mentally and physically. It is important to have athletes log their sleep, how they are feeling mentally and emotionally, and also their energy and hunger levels. Taking into account how an individual is feeling, is very important in regards to making adjustments to one’s sports nutrition diet.
Designing a sports nutrition diet to meet an athlete’s individual needs does not need to be complicated. By taking a whole-foods first approach, the majority of one’s energy and nutrient needs can be easily met without having to dive into the world of sports nutrition supplements, the majority of which are over-processed and full of chemicals, additives, and fillers of no nutritional or health-promoting value. Ongoing contact with athletes is imperative in understanding what combination of foods and corresponding macro and micronutrients will be optimal for their bodies, performance, recovery, and overall health. Every body is different and an RHN-Holistic Nutritionist pays particular attention to this notion when designing a sports nutrition diet to meet an athlete’s individual needs.