Whether you’re a cheerleader, track star, basketball player or gymnast, eating healthily is essential to keep your mind and body in peak condition. If you eat badly, you’ll not only be failing to give your body the energy and nutrients that it needs to compete, you’ll also be letting down your coach, teammates and supporters. Eating well involves making sure you know about nutrition, and making great choices at home, on the go and at the school cafeteria. So how do you make sure that you make all the right choices?
As an athlete, you must stay hydrated, and that doesn’t mean guzzling down cans of sugary soda or energy drinks! Dehydration can cause tiredness, crankiness, headaches and poor concentration, none of which are what you want when you’re competing. Drinking enough fluids is especially important when you’re exercising, as you’re likely to sweat more and need to replace more fluids.
Water, herbal or fruit teas and low-fat milk are all great choices to keep your body hydrated, and should be drunk regularly throughout the day. Fruit juice is a good way of packing more nutrients into your diet, but as it contains high amounts of natural sugars you should limit your intake. Sports drinks help to replace energy and salts that the body loses through sweating as well as fluids, so they can be beneficial when you exercise or play sport for over an hour.
It’s no myth that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, as going without it can lead to lack of concentration, slower metabolism and mid-morning energy slumps. For a great start to the day you should try to mix lean protein, dairy, carbohydrates and fruit. The following are some examples of healthy breakfast choices:
- Oatmeal made with skim milk served with berries.
- Soft-boiled eggs on wholewheat toast.
- Wholewheat bagel with peanut butter.
- Zero-percent fat Greek-style yogurt with granola mixed into it.
If it’s a school day and you’re running late for the bus, grab something to eat on the go, such as an apple or banana, piece of wholewheat toast or a hard-boiled egg. Try not to make this a regular thing though, and make sure that you have a healthy and filling mid-morning snack as well as a good lunch.
It’s important to always have something in your bag to snack on during the day if you want to avoid the lure of the fast-food joint or the school snack machine. Try granola bars, fruit, mixed nuts or baked crackers.
Make sure you eat a balanced lunch, as this will help to fuel your body for classes in the afternoon and after-school sports practice. Here are some excellent choices to make at lunchtime, whether you’re in the school canteen or the food court at the mall:
- Chicken or tuna fish salad with a wholewheat bagel, piece of fruit or yogurt.
- Mixed bean and pasta salad, piece of fruit or yogurt.
- Tuna fish sandwiches on wholewheat bread, piece of fruit or yogurt.
- Cheese and bean tortilla wraps, piece of fruit or yogurt.
What you eat at dinnertime will refuel your body and promote its recovery, so it’s especially important after a game or tryout. Make sure your dinner includes lean protein, such as skinless grilled chicken, grilled fish or marinated tofu, as this is what helps to build and repair muscles. Have an extra serving of salad or veggies for a boost of vitamins and nutrients, and some carbohydrate for extra fuel. Brown rice or pasta, baked sweet potato or wholewheat dinner rolls are all fantastic foods that contain complex carbohydrates.
Don’t assume that it’s up to your parents to make sure you eat the right foods to keep you strong, healthy and ready to compete. It’s your body and you should make sure that you make the right choices. A varied diet guarantees that you have all the food groups and nutrients covered, and don’t forget that whilst junk food may taste good, it’s full of empty calories that won’t be able to sustain an athlete’s fitness.
Ryan is a former college wrestler and lifelong fitness fanatic. He has run half marathons, done mud runs, placed in body transformation contests, coached wrestling and now coaches girls soccer. Not to mention he has also tried literally hundreds of supplements over the years and has a vast and thorough supplement knowledge. He has written for Muscle & Strength, Testosterone Junkie, The Sport Review and other publications. He is also the editor in chief of this website. Feel free connect with him on his LinkedIn page below.