Our good friend, Julie Nicoletti, is a registered pharmacist, certified sports nutritionist, and founder of Kinetic Fuel: a company dedicated to educating and counseling athletes on proper nutrition. Today she shares a little everyday nutritional wisdom for athletes who need to make better food choices on the go.
Some things are so important that they are worth repeating. Like, “please” and “thank you,” and “treat others as you would want to be treated.” In my role as a sports nutritionist working with literally thousands of high school, collegiate and professional athletes, as well as many families who are motivated to make healthy choices part of their daily lives, there are a few things I say over and over again. I understand that every athlete is different and their nutritional recommendations will be different based on their goals, their sport, their body composition, schedule and food preferences, as well as allergies, medication and a number of other variables. For example, the recommendations would be different for a hockey player looking to gain lean functional muscle so as not to be pushed around on the ice, than for a cross-country runner who may need to lean out in order to gain speed in their 5k. But the message is the same:
When it comes to being a competitive athlete, timing and choices are everything.
On average, an athlete makes about 200 food and drink choices throughout the course of the day—yet they may only be aware of about ten percent of them. The goal in using nutrition as a tool to increase sport performance is for athletes to become more aware of those choices. Here’s what I say over and over again: “If it swims, runs, flies, grows from the ground or falls from a tree and you can still recognize it, it’s a much better choice than something that comes in a shiny wrapper, crinkly bag or cardboard box.” Adopting that philosophy can be fairly easy when it comes to meals because there are lots of options, but athletes tend to ask many questions about snacks. Many are used to eating snack-like foods such as chips, crackers, pretzels and cookies. And these food choices simply won't help you reach your athletic goals.
Ideally, snacks should look like mini meals—a second breakfast mid-morning or a second lunch mid-afternoon—but high school and collegiate players need something more portable than eggs sunnyside-up. They may need to have their snack with them when they leave home at 7:00am, even though they may not be eating it until 3:00pm. Or perhaps the dining hall isn’t open at 2:00pm, when their body requires that mini-meal. Or maybe they have a class at that time and need to eat during it to maintain enough energy for practice. The scenarios are endless.
One solution is a homemade trail mix. This can be made by assembling your favorite nuts, seeds, shaved coconut and dried fruits in whatever proportion you like. Make a big batch and then portion it out for a quick and easy snack that won’t freeze or melt. Homemade trail mix is easy to store since it doesn’t require refrigeration and will stay fresh in lockers, backpacks, dorm rooms and car glove compartments. Keep in mind that as healthy as all of the ingredients may be, they are also calorically dense. That’s great if a player needs to add calories in order to gain weight, but those who are trying to lean out should not mindlessly munch on this snack.
Another portable snack is homemade granola, one that is flavorful and crunchy and may be eaten alone or mixed in with fruit, berries or Greek yogurt. Try this easy, 5-step recipe for a healthy treat that you can carry with you throughout the day. It may be modified for those who are gluten-insensitive or allergic to nuts. You may also add ingredients similar to those in the trail mix. Store in a covered container or in individual portions and enjoy!
- Preheat oven to 325° and spray a large baking sheet or casserole dish with olive oil spray.
- Mix in a large bowl 6 cups rolled oats, 2 cups chopped or sliced raw almonds or other nuts, 1 cup whole wheat flour, 1 tsp. cinnamon, and 1/4 tsp. salt.
- Whisk together in a small bowl ¾ cup real maple syrup, 2/3 cup melted coconut oil, and 4 tbsp. vanilla.
- Add wet ingredients to dry and mix well, until oats are covered with the syrup mixture.
- Transfer granola to the baking sheet or large casserole dish and bake 40-45 minutes.
The real secret to proper nutrition is preparation. Knowing your schedule ahead of time and planning your food choices around it, or being prepared with a healthy snack option when unforeseen schedule changes arise (which they will), will help eliminate some of the potentially bad choices that can occur when you're hungry. Being prepared with the right food, for your goals, at the right time, will only help increase your athletic potential.
Join over 50,000 coaches and athletes using Volt's intelligent training app. For more information, click here.