"Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food" - Hippocrates

Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Athlete's Plate

The USDA recently released the MyPlate icon replacing the Food Guide Pyramid. MyPlate illustrates the five food groups using a familiar mealtime visual, a place setting. MyPlate is beneficial for all people, especially athletes. As you might have noticed, half of the plate consists of fruits and vegetables. These foods might not be your first thought in terms of foods to fuel your body and your workouts, but they should be. Athletes are concerned with fueling before, during and after workouts or races. However, they don’t think about their daily nutritional needs. It would be like putting gas in your car, but not thinking about other maintenance needs such as changing your oil or rotating your tires. In order to have a long active life and improve your performance and enhance recovery, eat fruits and vegetables.These energy dense foods have many benefits, especially for athletes. 

First, fruits and vegetables are high satiety foods meaning that they will fill you up. These foods are great in terms of managing your appetite. Think about it this way, you can eat the same amount of food, but eat fewer calories. To enhance the appetite satisfying effect, eat fruits and vegetables as appetizers or at the beginning of meals. Then you will eat less of the higher calorie foods on your plate, provided that you are paying attention to your body and stop eating when you are comfortably full. For instance, have a broth based vegetable soup or a salad before your chicken or pasta. This is especially helpful for endurance athletes who struggle with achieving and maintaining their ideal race weight. 

Also, fruits and vegetables are high in antioxidants and phytonutrients which help minimize post exercise inflammation caused by free radicals.  Basically they help repair your muscles so that you recover faster, perform better in workouts and races, and avoid injury. Specifically vitamins C and E appear to be the most effective antioxidant defenders against free radical damage to muscle tissues. Citrus fruits, melon, and berries are good sources of vitamin C. Vegetable oils, nuts, dark green vegetables and whole grains are rich in vitamin E. In order to get the most benefit, eat a wide variety of fruits and vegetables.

So what are some ways to incorporate more fruits and vegetables in your diet?

Breakfast- As sports dietitian Nancy Clark says do your fruit duty at breakfast. Start off the day with 2 servings of fruit. Add fresh or dried fruit to your cereal or oatmeal. In a hurry? Grab easily portable fruits such as apples or bananas.

Snacks- Have these between meals to help you get in your servings of fruits and vegetables. Dip baby carrots or other vegetables in hummus. Spread peanut butter on apple slices. Spoon Greek yogurt over fresh berries.

Lunch- Add lettuce and tomato to your sandwich. If you are eating out, substitute a salad for fries.

Dinner- Order your pizza with veggies. Add a salad and eat it before your pizza. Or fire up the grill. Serve chicken and veggie kabobs with corn on the cob. 

Recovery starts today with good nutrition! For more information about MyPlate, visit www.choosemyplate.gov.

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