5 Key Nutritional Tips for Busy Athletes
If purchasing, prepping and cooking healthy food that tasted good were easy, every athlete would be walking around resembling those of ancient Sparta.
Unfortunately when times are busy, nutrition is one of the first things get tossed to the wayside. It is at no fault to the busy athlete, it is simply that there is only so much time you can allocate to each aspect of life. Those being school or work, practice or competitions, training (everyone should be training), nutrition, family, friends and of course, Netflix.
Of these components, nutrition is likely the first to fall below the red line (Biggest Loser reference). So instead of simply becoming another athlete who “doesn’t have enough time to cook up something good”follow the tips below to make it a little easier to fuel your body with high quality nutrition.
1. Make healthy breakfasts that are easy to grab and go
When an athlete asks for some nutritional guidance, the first thing I do is ask them to record a 4 day food log (2 week days plus the weekend). 95% of the time the first thing to jump off the page is the lack of a nutritious breakfast, or breakfast at all.
Usually I will see a muffin/bagel, granola bar or bowl of cereal as the typical breakfast, if the athlete has eaten breakfast. And when I ask them why they chose that option (or not to eat), 99% of them answer that it comes down to lack of time.
I could try to encourage them to get up 10 minutes earlier so they can have some time to make a quality breakfast, but I am not that naive to think that most athletes would forgo hitting the snooze button for the 3rd time in order to get up and make breakfast.
While breakfast may or may not be the most important meal of the day (it has been questioned), I do believe that starting the day with a quality meal will help set the stage for the remainder of the day.
My tip: The best thing to do is prepare the breakfast the night before. That way there is no extra time needed in the morning.
Some examples are:
-Hard boil some eggs to eat with a piece of fruit
-Cook oatmeal (try it with berries and protein powder) and either throw some milk in it in the morning and eat it cold, or throw it in the mircrowave to heat it up.
-If you own a personal blender, put some fruit in the cup and freeze it. Add some protein powder, cinnamon and peanut butter in a container and put it in the fridge. In the morning throw some spinach in the blender bottle, pour in the protein and peanut butter mixture and add some milk. Blend and go.
-Make a greek yogurt bowl: take plain greek yogurt, add 1/2 a scoop of protein powder, cinnamon and cocoa powder to taste and stir. Top with berries and sliced banana. Cover and devour in the morning.
-If you do have a few minutes in the morning, chop veggies the night before and throw them in a pan in the morning.
Scramble some eggs and cook them with the veggies. Add cheese, salsa, etc and you have a delicous egg scramble that took only 10 minutes to make…because chopping the veggies is the longest part which was already done
2. Ask mom (or dad) to make extras for left overs for lunch or dinner the next day
This is pretty straight forward. Whoever the cook is, kindly ask them to cook in bulk so that there are plenty of leftovers.
Package up the leftovers in containers that you can grab in the morning, put them in your lunch box and go. If you are going to be out for a while, grab two containers.
Every weekend I dedicate a couple hours to getting all of my food prepped for the week, stored in containers and arranged in the fridge so it is an easy transition to my lunch box. If I didn’t, it would be extremely difficult to eat the way I do.
3. Always carry snacks…good ones!
No matter where you go, always pack a snack or two.
Even if you don’t need them, you know they are there in the case that you get stuck out later than expected, have multiple practices or competitions in a short period of time or end up lost in the Great Northern wilderness trying to out run a pack of hungry wolves…in the last scenario you may want to sacrifice your snacks to sidetrack the wolves, just saying.
Some quick snack examples are:
-Mixed nuts or peanuts (if you are not allergic of course).
-Fruit such as apples, oranges, bananas, peaches, etc.
-Vegetables such as baby carrots, celery or cherry tomatoes.
-Beef jerky (or if you like the other stuff there is buffalo, turkey, alligator, etc…my favorite is KRAVE).
-Healthy protein bars (check out this link for some ideas… 7 healthy protein bars, and 3 to avoid).
-Home made protein bars (there are tons of easy recipes out there like these…PROTEIN BAR RECIPES).
-Protein powder in milk, almond, water, coffee, etc. (if you can’t have any of the previous snacks)
4. Use protein powder as a snack, nutrition enhancer or last resort
I know in a few of the previous points protein powder came up a couple of times.
The big thing to remember about protein powder is that it is not a necessity for getting or staying strong, nor will it cause you to rip out of your shirt like Bruce Banner when he gets angry…when he becomes The Incredible Hulk for those of you don’t know.
If you noticed above, most of the suggestions that used the protein powder were ones where protein powder was used to enhance the nutrient profile of the meal/snack.
The only one where protein powder was by itself (protein in milk, almond milk, water, etc.) was if you did not have access to any of the aforementioned snacks.
Protein powder is a great additive to meals and snacks, but by itself does not provide other nutrients such as carbohydrates, healthy fats, vitamins and minerals that are also conducive to health and performance.
That is why I always suggest trying to have real food meals/snacks first (with protein powder added if you want) and then protein powder by itself as a last resort.
But don’t get me wrong, if you are about to train or have a competition and you haven’t eaten in a while (2+ hours), or have just completed a training session or competition and won’t have access to a real food meal within an hour of your session, some protein is warranted.
Just don’t think that protein powder is your key to getting jacked (guys) or that it will make you overly muscular (ladies)…but this is a whole other article.
5. Always carry a water bottle…and refill it!
Although some may say this point is not a “nutrition” point, it is!
One of the easiest ways to stay healthy, perform at a high level and feel like an overall badass is to stay hydrated.
Ok, so maybe directly feeling like a badass is a stretch, but staying hydrated will help you push more weight, cut quicker and sprint faster, which in turn results in a feeling of badassery.
Physical performance (as well as mental) has been shown to be negatively impacted when hydration status is sub optimal. Not only this, but hunger pangs can many times be attributed to being dehydrated.
Basically, if you want to perform well, and keep from feeling ravenous throughout your day, make sure to stay hydrated by carrying a water bottle all day, and refilling it frequently.
I’m always amazed to hear how many athletes carry water bottles, but never refill it throughout the day.
Wrappin’ It Up
Nutrition is key for everyone, and especially for those who regularly place a high physical and mental demand on their body (athletes, both competitive and recreational!).
Unfortunately, it is one of the last things on our mind when we get super busy.
Use the tips above to ensure that sticking with a healthier nutritional regimen is easily incorporated into your daily lives.
Make sure to leave any questions in the comments below and help your friends and family out by sharing the article with them!
To your health and performance,