In November, I launched a 20-Day Nutrition Series across my social media accounts (follow @eleatnutrition on IG/Twitter/Facebook). Each day, I shared different sports nutrition tips, recipes, or recommendations that all go into the meal plans I create for professional athletes. Here's the entire nutrition series in one blog. Whether you're looking to lose weight, gain weight, improve performance, or just start living a healthier lifestyle, this series is packed with the info you need to get started!
Day 1: Before you even begin to make breakfast, start your day by drinking 16-20 oz. of water. You just went 7+ hours without drinking anything, so it’s important to get some fluids in to kickstart your day, your metabolism, and reduce your chances of dehydration. It’s long been said to have 8 glasses of water each day, but it’s important to note that there is no real “one-size-fits-all” approach to water consumption. Everyone has different needs when it comes to fluids. There are many variables that go into calculating an athlete's needs such as weight, diet, climate, sweat rate, sport, duration and intensity.
Day 2: A healthy breakfast should contain all 3 macronutrients: carbs, protein, & healthy fats. I see much too often high school athletes having a bowl of cereal that's low-calorie, low-fiber, low-protein, and high-sugar as their entire breakfast. A better alternative to cereal that I recommend to my athletes is muesli. You can make it homemade (recipe here) or buy Bob's Red Mill brand from the grocery store. Muesli is a great source of whole grains, making it high in fiber, and contains both protein & healthy fats from the nuts & seeds. The pie chart above is the macronutrient breakdown of an MLB athlete's breakfast. Based on his specific off-season goals, his breakfast is set around 850 calories. He can achieve this by having 1 cup muesli (440 calories/bob's red mill) made with 1 cup milk, a large banana, and scrambled eggs.
Day 3: Smoothies are one of the easiest ways to get your greens. If you've never made one, you may be hesitant about the idea of drinking vegetables...but don't knock it until you try it! Here's a guide full of different recipe combinations for healthy smoothie making.
- For those of you wanting to add protein powder to your smoothies, make sure you are using a safe and clean product. There are several on the market promoting themselves as "clean" and "natural" but often times these claims are bogus..check the ingredient list and ask a dietitian! One product I recommend to my athletes is BiPro. They use very few ingredients and are NSF certified for sport. Another way to up the protein of your smoothies would be to add Greek yogurt.
Day 4: What you eat between meals and how often you eat matter more than you think! Over the next 4 days I'll be covering each of the snack ideas pictured above (Eggs, Nuts, Nut Butters, Energy bars). I'll be covering the basics on why you should eat them, what the best sources are, and why I recommend these to athletes. Here are a few additional snacking tips to get you started:
1. Aim to eat every 3-4 hours.
2. Try to include a fruit or vegetable into each snack.
3. Include either a source of healthy fats or protein with each snack to help keep you full longer.
4. A very basic guideline for what your snacks should contain is 200-250 calories, 3g fiber or more, and 5g protein or more (note: everyone has very different needs, meet with me for your specific recommendations.)
Day 5: Why do eggs make such a great snack choice? Eggs are a complete protein, containing all the essential amino acids your body needs. They're packed with vitamins such as vitamin D, which is important in injury prevention. They also contain the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin which are very important for eye health. Their high protein and fat content makes them very satisfying, so you'll feel full longer. If you're only eating the egg whites, you're throwing away the most nutritious part of the egg. Egg yolks get a bad rap due to their cholesterol/fat content, however, the egg yolk is where all of these vital nutrients are found.
COOKING TIPS: hard boiled eggs, or eggs cooked in a pan with non-stick cooking spray are a healthier alternative to restaurant-style eggs that are often cooked in oil or butter. Boil eggs at home and store in your fridge for a quick grab-and-go snack! You could also try making my mini egg quiches, get the recipe here.
Day 6: Why do nuts make such a great snack choice? They're packed with antioxidants, fiber, protein, and healthy fats. They're also linked to lowering cholesterol, improving heart health, controlling weight, and even lower cancer risk. For athletes trying to maintain or put on weight, nuts make an excellent snack because of their high calorie content. One handful of nuts can quickly provide you with 200+ calories. Nuts are also an excellent snack for weight loss because their mix of omega-3 fatty acids, protein, and fiber will help you feel full and suppress your appetite. Avoid nuts that are roasted in salt and oil and instead opt for raw or dry roasted. As for which nut is the healthiest, variety is best! Each nut has their own unique nutrient content, so mix it up to make sure you're getting a variety of nutrients. Almonds are packed with vitamin E, an antioxidant that helps fight inflammation. Walnuts have more omega-3 than any other nut, so if you're not much of a fish eater this is a great one to include in your diet! Just one brazil nut contains your daily dose of selenium, and cashews are rich in both iron and zinc. Check the chart below for what one serving (~160 calories) of each of these nuts looks like!
Day 7: "Which is better, almond butter or peanut butter?", "what ingredients should I avoid?" "should I eat PB2 peanut butter instead?" "what are partially hydrogenated oils, and mono- and diglycerides?" You'd be surprised how many questions I get just about nut butters! All of these answers, along with why they make a great snack choice for athletes are found in my blog "Everything You Need To Know About Nut Butters"
Day 8: With so many types of energy, granola, and protein bars on the market, it's difficult to determine which is best for you. The majority of people only look as far as the front of the package to see if it's a healthy bar. For example, the term "natural" is becoming a commonly used term in the food industry. People confuse this term as meaning organic, healthy, no artificial man-made ingredients, pesticides, or GMOs. However, the word "natural" has no actual definition set by the FDA...meaning companies can use this without it being all of the assumed above. Similar to the saying "you can't judge a book by it's cover", you can't trust a food product by it's cover. It's important you start reading the backs of products to know what you are really eating. Read my blog here to find out everything you need to know about choosing healthy energy bars.
Day 9: is for those of you always having to eat on-the-go. Whether you're traveling or don't have enough time to cook, you CAN make healthy choices dining out. On every meal plan I create, I make sure to list the healthiest options at the athlete's favorite restaurants. One of the healthiest places you can eat is Chipotle. Ditch the flour tortilla and order a bowl instead to cut 300 calories, 10g of fat, & nearly 700 mg sodium!! Here's what I recommend my clients order from chipotle: Burrito Bowl with: brown rice (contains more fiber, protein, & lower sodium than white), black or pinto beans, chicken or steak, fajita vegetables, lettuce & fresh salsa. 🌯
For more healthy dining out tips, read my blog here.
Day 10: There are two parts to Day 10 in this 20 day nutrition series. The first part covers a wide range of questions I get regarding bread..."should you eat it?" "What kind is best?" "What kinds should you avoid?" For all those answers and more, read my blog here. The second part to Day 10 is a popular recipe amongst my clients that makes for a quick and delicious lunch! Try these buffalo chicken sandwiches for lunch this weekend!
2 slices whole wheat bread
3-4 oz. chicken breast, cooked and shredded (or diced)
4 thin slices fresh avocado
2 Tbsp buffalo sauce (Make by combining 1 Tbsp Frank's Red hot buffalo wing sauce & 1 Tbsp nonfat plain Greek yogurt)
1. Grill chicken breast in skillet over medium-high heat with 1 Tbsp olive oil. Flip frequently and use a pinch of salt and pepper as desired. Once fully cooked, shred or dice chicken.
2. In separate large skillet (or panini pan), spray nonstick cooking spray and heat over medium-high heat. Place two slices wheat bread onto skillet and cook until lightly browned. Add chicken and sliced avocado to one slice, drizzling the buffalo sauce on top.
3. Place the other slice of bread on top and press firmly down with spatula. Flip until golden brown. Enjoy! If short on time, you could toast the bread in a toaster and assemble the sandwiches this way.
Day 11: Pre-Workout Fueling. Food is fuel for the athlete and it can either help or hinder athletic performance greatly. Your meal 3-4 hours before your game, event, or hard training session should consist of all three macronutrients (carbohydrate, protein and fat). Carbs are the primary source of fuel for your muscles, regardless of the type of activity you’re performing. A diet low in carbs can lead to early fatigue, decreased endurance, power, & mental focus. Quality sources of carbohydrates include fruits, vegetables, whole wheat bread, oats, pasta, rice, quinoa, etc. As game time approaches, the size of your meal or snack should decrease. The diagram above shows how your pre-workout snack (1-2 hours before) should consist mainly of carbohydrates with very minimal protein and fat.
Day 12: Combining carbohydrates with protein 30 minutes after a workout is essential for optimal recovery. Intense exercise depletes most of your stored carbs (aka glycogen...energy for your muscles!) Without this muscle glycogen, your muscles won't have the fuel source it needs to perform at your maximum potential. Glycogen is restored with carbs. The key to proper recovery for endurance athletes is a 3-4:1 ratio of carbs to protein (3-4 grams of carbs for every 1 gram protein.) This "Crunch Toast" recipe fits that ratio. With 65 grams carbs and 18 grams protein, it makes for an excellent post-workout option.
Day 13: Dehydration significantly impairs performance and can lead to early fatigue, cramping, or heat illness. It’s important not to rely only on the feeling of being “thirsty” to tell you when to drink. The signal that tells you you’re thirsty reaches your brain after you’ve already lost about 1% in body fluids. A 2% loss in body fluids is defined as “dehydration”. It’s important to train yourself to drink on a schedule to avoid dehydration! Check out this chart above for general guidelines on how much to drink before, during, and after your run or other endurance training session. (note: everyone has very different fluid needs based on weight, sweat rate, sport, duration, climate, intensity, etc.
Day 14: Sports drinks like Gatorade and Powerade are the most popular source of fuel during workouts. They not only aid in hydration, but provide carbohydrates for energy and electrolytes to replace losses in sweat. However, there are some cons that could come with guzzling down drinks like Gatorade during each training session. For one, the second ingredient in Gatorade is sugar (right after water). It contains over five teaspoons of added sugar! It also contains several additives, artificial colors and flavorings (differ depending on flavor). The newer "G2" low-calorie series is lower calorie because they replaced some of the sugar with artificial sweeteners (sucralose/splenda and acesulfame K). I highly recommend athletes avoid artificial sweeteners during workouts as they could lead to GI distress, bloating, upset stomach, etc.
In the chart below, I've compared the nutrition content of two of my homemade sports drink recipes to Gatorade. The carbohydrate source in my drinks (Citrus & Watermelon) is natural sugar from fruit, potassium from coconut water, & sodium from a pinch of sea salt. Get the recipes here.
Day 15: Covers several tips on how to stick to your meal plan while celebrating holidays with family and friends. Whether it's a Summer BBQ for the 4th, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and everything in between, here's two separate blogs that will help keep you on track: Eating Healthy Over the Holidays and How to Stay Healthy at Summer BBQs
Day 16: So far in the first 15 days of this 20-day nutrition series, I've touched on the following topics that make up a crucial part of every athlete's meal plan: hydration, sports drinks, fluid needs, pre & post-workout fueling, dining out, breakfast, snacks, & lunch. Today I'm sharing one of my favorite tools to show how to better adjust your eating to maximize performance. The image below shows what an athlete's plate should look like on "Moderate Training" days. This should be your baseline from where you adjust your plate down (easy training days) or up (hard training/race day) depending on the physical demands of your sport. These images come from the U.S. Olympic Committee Sports Dietitians, and you can find all three plates at www.teamusa.org.
1. Aim for at least half your grains to be whole grains (ex: brown rice, quinoa, whole wheat bread, cereals, & pastas.) Your plate should be filled 25-35% (more depending on the athlete/sport) with grains.
2. Include a fruit, veggie, or both at each meal and snack. About half of your plate should be filled with fruits and veggies.
3. Aim to spread protein intake evenly throughout the day (i.e. not all at once, and not in excessive amounts via protein shakes!) Stick primarily to lean protein sources, with the exception of fatty fish such as salmon for Omega-3s. About 25% of your plate should be filled with protein.
4. Include a healthy source of unsaturated fats at each meal (ex: avocados, olive oil, nuts, seeds.) The final 4 days I'll be sharing popular dinner & meal options amongst my athletes!
Day 17: An easy recipe that my clients love is this Pesto Baked Chicken. It calls for just four ingredients: Chicken breasts, mozzarella cheese, Roma tomatoes, & basil pesto (homemade or store bought). When @aschecody and I make this, he has two chicken breasts (4 oz. each), 1 cup whole wheat penne pasta, and 2 cups broccoli roasted with olive oil.
Day 18: Two favorites, tacos and buffalo wings, together in one dish...with just six ingredients and under 20 minutes to make! The bottom two photos are from clients that have made this dish in the past week. Get the recipe here.
Day 19: Chili that's packed with protein, iron, fiber, and flavor...it's the perfect dinner in this chilly weather! Simply toss everything together in a crockpot and you have meals ready for the whole week. Get the recipe here.
Day 20: For the final day of this nutrition series, I wanted to share ways to stay healthy while traveling! Athletes spend a huge amount of their season traveling for races, competitions, or games. It's so important to pack healthy snacks with you ahead of time. You will always be prepared when hungry, and you won't have to worry about going too long without eating or being stuck with unhealthy options. The below photos are some of the snacks I recommend packing in your carry-on ahead of time: baby carrots, blueberries & raspberries, beef jerky, mixed nuts, larabars, hard-boiled eggs, and homemade fruit & nut bars.
Here are a few more items to pack with you the next time you travel:
1. Whole wheat bagels/bread with peanut butter (note: if flying, jars of PB cannot be taken on the plane. Either spread PB on these beforehand, or bring a small to-go packet such as Justin’s brand to get through security.)
2. Triscuit crackers & small to-go packs of hummus
-Dried or fresh fruits & nuts (trail mixes)
-Ziploc bags of whole grain cereals (ex: kashi, quakers oatmeal squares)
-Ziploc bags of air-popped popcorn
Athletes who are traveling by plane should also be aware of the effect flying has on dehydration levels due to low humidity in the cabin. When flying, make sure to drink plenty of caffeine-free fluids such as water, juice, or gatorade and avoid coffee, energy drinks, soda, and alcohol. Empty water bottles can be taken through security at airports to refill while traveling.
Please share this blog with any athletes looking for sports nutrition tips & education! To get started with your own personalized meal plan or to schedule a meeting with me, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the contact me page.