One of the most common questions I’m asked is “what is the best eating philosophy or plan?” And I bet you know my answer. I recommend a daily nutrition eating plan full of real, whole, slow, natural foods. I recommend balance of healthy fats, proteins, and whole-food carbs at meals, and I recommend seperating daily nutrition from training fuel. Many plans fit into this description, including my own meal plans (of course!), paleo eating, whole30, healthy vegetarian eating, and more. And sometimes, this inclusion of so many philosophies is confusing.
While it’s easy to get sucked into a “one best” diet mentality and declare that your way of eating is superior to another, lemme tell you…I’ve been around this whole nutrition thing for a while. And here’s what I’ve seen: There are many healthy people doing all sorts of different things with their nutrition. And, they’re fine. There are meat-eaters, vegetarians, Paleo-people, low-carbers, and high-carbers. People who swear by fasting and others who’d never miss their 6 meals per day. Yes, even among athletes there are a huge variety of diets. And if there’s one thing I want to impart this week, it’s that all of these can work. But what’s more important than the title or philosophy is the goods.
The actual healthy foods and nutrients.
To this end, as you all well know, I recommend more homemade, real, from-the-earth foods and less (so much less) processed foods. I recommend eating things in which you know where they came (from the ground or an animal, and not invented or produced with fake flavors, colors, and additives in a processing plant somewhere). And within these generalities, there are foods and nutrients I believe to be important for daily consumption. Every day. Some every meal. Rather than simply fear, omit, and ban what’s bad for us, proactively find, prepare, and consume what’s good. This is what often separates a diet from a positive eating lifestyle. The focus is on what your body needs, even along with what we should avoid. The goods. Here are 5 things I believe athletes should eat daily.
5 Foods Athletes Should Eat Daily:
Vegetables – Raw, cooked, fresh or frozen. Vegetables offer so many good things for our bodies. On the one hand they offer phytochemicals, vitamins, minerals, fiber, and all sorts of not well defined nutrients that are linked to cancer prevention, reductions and heart disease, and overall wellness. And on the other hand, they are great tool in helping us control portions of other more calorie dense foods. I recommend a good four servings of vegetables per day, with additional fruit. Try smoothies, soups, stirfries, and salad.
- Daily: I recommend 4 servings per day (Each serving is 1 cup fresh or 1/2 cup cooked). Easy to accomplish is you include some at lunch and follow “light at night” with 1/2 a plate of veggies at dinner.
- Avoid: I recommend avoiding frozen ones with extra ingredients. I’ve seen everything from soybean oil to hydrogenated oils too colorings in these chemical-laden “vegetables” (here’s an example).
- Daily: 1+ serving high-probiotic food or supplement
- Avoid: Avoid unnecessary use of antibiotics and foods from animals that have been fed them.
Omega-3 fats. The value of omega-3 fats lies in how they affect the hormones in our bodies to promote or reduce inflammation in a systemic manner. They compete with omega-6 fats to push our bodies towards more or less inflammatory processes. One of the central issues of overall health in the modern age is that our bodies are flooded with omega six fats from natural foods and more significantly, processed foods. Cheap, omega-6 oils are used in most every highly processed food that comes in a box bottle or bag. Therefore, it is important to not only proactively consume omega-3s, especially those from marine sources while decreasing consumption of omega six fats.
- Daily: Omega-3 foods such as fish, algae, flax, chia, etc. or a supplement. Twice per week, fatty, wild fish if possible.
- Avoid: Omega3/6/9 Supplements, High omega-6 ingredients like soybean oil (see full write-up here).
Whole-food high-fiber carbohydrates: Whether you choose to include grains or not, there are many, whole-food, high-fiber (or at least moderate) carbohydrate foods to provide many nutrients and an easily-digested energy source. The amount you need or want can vary widely, with healthy athletes consuming amounts from very little (less than 50 grams per day) to high-carb diets (many hundreds of grams per day). I do recommend moderating carbs, overall, when trying to lose weight. But as importantly, when choosing carbs, I recommend having real-food ones like sweet potatoes, beans, fruits, oats, quinoa, and similar (and not much packaged breads, pastries, refined grain products, etc). When working with clients, we generally include whole-food carbohydrates foods like these at breakfast, lunch, and smaller amounts in daytime snacks.
- Daily: Whole-food, real-food carbohydrates at daytime meals and optionally snack.
- Avoid: Processed, sugary, refined grains and carbohydrates in daily nutrition (the exception being an optional smaller treat per day or a cheat meal).
Natural protein sources at each meal. Believe it or not, it takes more energy to digest, absorb, and metabolize protein than it does carbohydrates and fats, so they can be especially helpful for maintaining a lean weight or losing weight – they can fill you up and provide many nutrients without the calorie-cost of the many carbs and fats. What’s more, protein helps your body repair, rebuild, and function properly, especially in athletes who stress their bodies and push their skeletal muscle limits. I recommend natural protein sources, from vegetarian sources or animal sources, at each meal and extra servings in recovery after riding.
- Daily: Healthy proteins at all meals and optionally at any snacks. Extra protein for recovery immediately after riding and before bed during on-seasons.
- Avoid: Avoid protein powders with a slew of ingredients – many include transfats, omega-6 fats like soybean oil, sunflower oil, etc., colorings, and other “junk” ingredients. Avoid conventional meats, and dairy from livestock kept in feedlots or given antibiotics while in the milking cycling. Avoid conventionally grown soy products.
Sure, this list is not ground breaking or anything new to most of us. But, I know it helps me to simplify and list out my objectives now and then. As we head into a season that often causes weight gain, stress-eating, and party-overeating, it can be beneficial to keep the day in day out eating simple. Aim to eat meals and snacks with whole foods, while avoiding processed ones. Include loads of vegetables, some whole carbohydrates, protein at each meal, and daily omega-3s and probiotics. Maybe *this* is why I love smoothies – you can stick all 5 in there at once! Real, whole, slow, and good this year. Finish strong this year with a focus on these 5 and accomplish your weight, health, strength and athletic goals!
Fuel Your Adventure. Nourish Your Body.
***Kelli Jennings is a Registered Dietician, sports nutritionist, avid endurance athlete, and owner of Apex Nutrition, LLC. She has partnered with Heights Performance to help clients get and stay healthy, lose fat, recover from injury, and reduce the risk of chronic disease. She is also an expert in endurance sports nutrition, and focuses on optimal performance, best strength to weight ratio, recovery, endurance and stamina. She teaches clients to eat nourishing, real foods without spending hours in the kitchen or hiring a personal chef. Kelli can help you put great nutrition into everyday life.***
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