I think just about everyone can relate to having a crazy, hectic schedule, especially athletes who juggle work, training and family time. Meal planning and preparation can often be pushed to the side with all that’s happening in life.
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and lunch is the second as it refuels the morning and/or noontime exercisers and prepares you with enough fuel for afternoon workouts. Dinner is your opportunity to replenish the body after a day of hard work. Balanced meals ensure that you receive all the daily nutrition you need. Whether you make your own meal or buy it, here are some tips to improving your meals.
A few years ago the USDA released MyPlate as the replacement of the MyPyramid (formerly known as the food pyramid). It just so happens that registered dietitians have been teaching this ideal healthy plate icon for many years prior to MyPlate. It is our way of providing a visual of a perfectly balanced meal with appropriate portion sizes.
Choose whole grains. Grains that are unrefined will not only provide a good source of energy-rich carbohydrates, but they will also provide a good source of B-vitamins and fiber. A good rule of thumb when choosing whole grains is to check the ingredient list. The first ingredient should say whole grain. For example, whole grain brown rice or whole grain wheat flour. This is a great indicator that the majority, if not all of the grains are whole. Grains should take up 1/4 of your plate.
Don’t use color as an indicator of whole grains. For example, pumpernickel bread may seem like it would be a whole grain, but the dark color is actually from molasses and cocoa powder.
Include plenty of lean protein. Protein-rich foods should make up ¼ of your plate to ensure that you receive enough protein to build and repair muscles. Darker meats such as pork and beef will be rich sources of iron and zinc to reduce the risk of iron-deficiency anemia.
Aim for 5-7 ounces of protein-rich foods in addition to the protein you would receive through other food groups. Check out previous protein blog post to learn more about protein needs and sources.
Enjoy health fats. Dietitians used to recommend consuming less fat, but that message has changed to choosing the right types of fats. Choose liquid oils over solid fats. This means more olive or canola oil and less butter and margarine. Limit saturated fats and trans fats and consume more mono- and poly-unsaturated fats.
Fats found in avocado, nuts, nut butters, seeds, fatty fish and flaxseeds will also provide healthy sources of fats.
Vary your veggies. Vegetables are a nutritional powerhouse offering vitamins, minerals and fiber. Aim for 2-1/2 cups of veggies per day. While the dark, color vegetables are often touted as being the most nutritious, that doesn’t mean you should skip the light-colored veggies. Vegetables such as onions, parsnips, cauliflower and jicama make great options.
Starchy vegetables such as potatoes, corn, peas, winter squash and legumes will provide a good source of carbohydrates to add to the strong foundation of energy needed in athletes.
Choose fresh and frozen vegetables most often. Canned vegetables also make a good choice. They can be high in sodium so consider draining and rinsing canned veggies to reduce the sodium by 40%.
Don’t forget the calcium. Milk, yogurt and cheese will not only provide an excellent source of protein, but they will provide calcium and vitamin D that are important for bone health. Dairy provides a unique combination of nine essential nutrients. It can be difficult to receive all the nutrition one needs in a day when not consuming a minimum of three servings of dairy per day.
Finish off the meal with fruits. Fruits are an additional source of carbohydrates, plus bonus vitamins, minerals and fiber. The U.S. Dietary Guidelines recommend consuming 1-1/2 cups of fruit daily. Strive to receive a variety of colorful fruits to gain the variety of nutrition fruits can provide.
Fresh and frozen fruits will always be best. Canned and dried fruits will have added sugars, so monitor your portion size. As someone who enjoys something sweet at the end of a meal, I always try to eat my fruit last to leave with something sweet and reduce my craving for dessert.
Fruits and veggies should make up 1/2 of your plate.
Building a meal that resembles MyPlate can be lot easier than what you may think. Take one of my favorite foods as an example… Pizza! A Jacks bacon cheeseburger pizza would not be a good choice for an athlete, but making your own pizza can definitely work. Pizza bread dough or pre-made pizza crusts work great at providing a serving of grains. Spread on a tomato-based pizza sauce or even pesto can make a tasty base. Next step involves piling on the vegetables of your choice. I love using mushrooms, spinach, artichokes, red bell pepper, zucchini and eggplant. I’ll finish off the pizza with some diced ham or chicken and shredded mozzarella cheese for protein. To make it a MyPlate meal, add a side of fruit and a glass of fat-free or low-fat milk. Boom, you’ve got yourself a family-friendly meal.