National Nutrition Month is celebrated every year in March. It' s main focus is to help educate people on the importance of healthy eating habits as well as a healthy lifestyle. This years theme is "Bite into a healthy lifestyle". The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics explains: "consuming fewer calories, making informed choices and getting daily exercise are key to maintaining a healthy weight, reducing your risk of chronic disease and promoting your overall health".
As athletes, you have the exercise part down (unless you are sitting around and doing nothing during off season, which I doubt). In addition, some of you may need more calories to help with weight gain. Nonetheless, here are some tips to promote overall health:
- Focus on more vegetables and fruits. Consume at least 5 servings a day but try to reach 7-9 servings. More produce will help fight inflammation and promote immune function. Refer to previous article on how to incorporate more vegetables in your diet.
- Make at least 50% of your grains whole grains. Whole grains help us feel fuller for a longer period of time. It helps lower cholesterol as well as prevent certain cancers. Moreover, it helps keep us regular and contains most of the B vitamins. Good examples are: quinoa, farro, brown rice, barley, oatmeal, rye, wild rice, bulgur and more.
- Limit or avoid concentrated sweets such as soda, cookies, cakes, candy, etc. Concentrated sweets promote inflammation. Chronic inflammation will hurt recovery and can even cause injury. Moreover, chronic inflammation has been associated with multiple risk factors including heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, cancer and more.
- Stay hydrated. Roughly, you should consume half your weight in oz (example; 180 lbs athlete should consume at least 90 oz fluids). This does not include the losses from exercise. Weigh yourself before and after practice, for every pound lost, drink about 20-24 oz. Prefer water but based on your day and practice time/intensity, it may be necessary to consume sports drinks. Remember, everything that is liquid counts including: tea, coffee, water, juice, sports drinks, soup, milk and smoothies.
- Snack wisely. Choose healthy snacks to help you meet your goals. It helps to plan ahead if you know you will have large gaps between meals, practice and classes. Healthy snacks can be: trail mix, cheese sticks, fruit, yogurt, jerky, etc.
- Don't eliminate nutrients. As an athlete, all nutrients are important. Whether its carbohydrates, fats, proteins, vegetables, fruits or dairy. They all serve an important purpose for performance, recovery and health.
- Focus on healthy fats such as avocado, olive oil, nuts, seeds and tahini.
- Limit or avoid fried fatty foods such as: fried chicken, fries, pizza, wings, etc. Similar to concentrated sweets, they promote inflammation.
- Avoid alcohol or drink in moderation (=1 serving for women and 2 servings for men). There are many detrimental effects of alcohol on performance as well as health. Refer to previous article for more information.
Whether many habits need to be changed or just a few, don't do it temporarily. Healthy habits should be for life. For assistance, refer to your local registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN). Help celebrate this month by also saying thank you to any RDN you know on March 11th, which is RDN day.
Happy & Delicious National Nutrition Month!