The daily grind for a cyclist is likely going to look different than the runner’s typical training day. The same is true of a kayaker and a skier, a swimmer and a gymnast, and so on. Each athlete’s training regimen is tailored improve speed, strength, and reaction as it pertains to her specific sport. But, when it comes to nutrition, there are some basics that apply across the board. Whether you’ll be mountain biking for 50 miles, running a marathon, or swimming the English channel, here are five tips to help you prime your body for success.
- Eat the rainbow – When it comes to what to put on your plate, a colorful palate is more than just pleasing to the eye. Deep red and purple foods contain antioxidants to improve blood flow and hearth health. Greens are packed with vitamin K, folic acid, and cancer-fighting compounds in addition to iron and potassium. And those oranges and greens? They are loaded with vitamin C and beta-carotene.
- No so fast, sweetie – Increasingly, health and medical professionals across the ideological spectrum are sounding the alarm on refined sugars. Sugar has found its way into virtually every item in the supermarket – bread, ketchup, crackers, salad dressings, marinades, and even deli meats. These “empty carbohydrates” are linked to increased risk of type II diabetes and various inflammatory immune responses in the body. If you need dessert, opt for fruits instead.
- Don’t fear the fats – The mantra of the last half of the 20th century was to steer clear of fats. However, some fats are good for us. Vegetable oils, nuts, seeds, and fish contain unsaturated fats that can lower the risk of certain diseases. Trans fats have been banned, though traces can still be used in foods—watch out for partially-hydrogenated oils. There is a debate ongoing as the pros and cons of natural saturated fats—those in red meats, whole-dairy products, cheese, etc. Even its proponents, though, recommend moderation.
- Tidy up that table – Eat clean—that is, choose and prepare foods that are minimally processed. Basically, choose foods that are close to their natural state as possible. Avoid ultra-processed foods. Yes, altering the initial food item in any way makes it processed (steaming the broccoli, or instance), but most of us know what we’re avoiding when we dodge processed foods.
- Shop the fringes – The items listed above that are must-haves are generally sold outside the rows of shelves in the grocery stores. They are upfront, lining the edge of the store, and in the back. The shelves are normally reserved for items with a significant shelf-life, i.e., the ultra-processed stuff. Take a quick stroll through your entire grocery store one day. Make note of the isles you can avoid completely, and which isles have some minimally processed foods you may need (think oatmeal, healthy oils, etc). Now, shop the fringes and dart down these few isles on your next visit.
This provides a framework that you can build any number of great nutritional systems around. What other absolutes would you add to our list? Is there a food or product you feel is a must-have across the board?
MORE ON THE HOTSHOT BLOG
Superfoods for Endurance Athletes: 6 foods to eat right now
Run Fast, Eat Slow: Shalane Flanagan’s go-to fuel
Nutrition and Cognition: Add these brain foods to your meal plan
Fuel like an Olympian: Shalane Flanagan’s Superhero Muffin recipe