|Posted on February 21, 2020 at 1:55 PM|
So, what the big deal about nutrition? Food is food, right? Not quite; what you eat is not only about the clichés of growing healthy, but it also impacts the way your brain functions, the way your body works, and how you feel. I’m sure you can think of a time when you were up late studying and the next day, you want to eat all the candy and soda, well that’s because your brain didn’t get the reset it needed to clear out the fog, so it is tired and is telling your body “I need a quick fix now!” Enter cravings for processed food and sugar. Or you look in the mirror and see a zit the size of Montana decided to pop up overnight, well that is also your body telling you something. When we eat foods with a lot of chemicals and added sugars, it’s like ancient hieroglyphics to your body and it cannot decipher the code and therefore, your body revolts and fights the unknown, often causing fatigue and other undesirable outcomes; such as acne, dry skin, and poor hair quality. And let’s talk about the dreaded F word…FAT. Fat is not the enemy, in fact, fat is kind of a beauty hack, a life saver, and a regulator, if it is the right kind. Healthy fats keep our skin glowing, moisturized, and soft and our hair smooth and shiny. Healthy fats are needed for the proper functioning of hormones, which tell our bodies what to do, when to do it, and how to do it. Healthy fats provide protection to our organs so if you get a jab in the gut, your organs have a cushion to prevent internal damage. Basically, what I’m saying, is fat gets a bad rap, but it’s just because it’s been misunderstood for so long.
Fueling our bodies right is challenging and being an athlete adds even more complexities to get through rigorous classes and demanding competitions. I’ve never really been a competitive athlete, but exercise has always been a passion of mine. Maybe you are different, but in my opinion, there are three things every athlete needs; Focus, Muscle, and Energy.
It takes a lot to keep focus, whether it is focus to study or focus to perform the dance. A big impact to your focus is sleep. Sleep is the time for your brain to flush out that brain fog so you can focus. As I alluded to earlier, when your brain is tired, your body just wants to get it the energy it needs, so it craves the quick fix; sugar. Reducing calories can also affect your focus by cutting the energy supply to your brain and impacts brain functions. It’s hard to focus when you are hungry, so instead of cutting calories, change where you get those calories. For example, replace high sugar calories with some healthy fats or whole carbohydrates for long term energy.
Clearly, muscle is important to any athlete. With extended classes and long competitions, muscles break down and are sore. The cure? Sleep and water! Sleep and water promotes muscle recovery and minimize muscle soreness by flushing out lactic acid that builds up in muscles. When muscles break down during exercise, they need to be rebuilt with replacement protein. Keep in mind that your body cannot use the extra protein during teen years, so no need to overdo it.
Lastly, you can’t get through long nights of classes after a full day of school without energy. There are two main types of energy; long term endurance and quick energy. Long term energy comes from healthy fats and carbohydrates and should be consumed 2 to 3 hours before exercise. Sugar is a source of quick energy 30 – 45 minutes before exercising, but let’s be clear here, you have two options for sugar with two different side effects. You can opt for a candy bar or gummi bears for a quick burst of energy and then deal with a sugar crash minutes later, or you can pick a natural sugar, like fruit, that will give energy without that crash. It’s up to you, but consider that processed foods and added sugars are kryptonite for endurance and energy. If you don’t know what the ingredients are in the food, your body doesn’t either, and therefore, will cause fatigue as your body tries to figure out what to do with it.
I will be the first to admit it, nutrition is confusing, especially with fad diets and Instagram. There’s conflicting information everywhere! Bottom line, your body is made up of carbohydrates, proteins, fats, and water, so to be an optimal athlete, it is important to fuel it with what it recognizes. Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying not to eat candy, chips, cookies, etc, because I will be the first to say chocolate is life for me. You need to enjoy your life and not depriving yourself is part of enjoying your life. What I am saying is fueling your bodies right for long classes and intense competitions is critical to be the best athlete you can be and you deserve to shine!
Quick Snack Ideas
• Nut butter on whole wheat toast/bread – add honey for a little sweetness
• Nut butter with celery or apples or banana
• Hummus and carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, peppers, cucumbers, or any other veggie that you like
• Guacamole with veggies and a couple of tortilla chips (choose corn or whole wheat over flour)
• Yogurt and berries with granola
• Chocolate milk – really great for recovery after exercise
• Any fruit - banana, orange, berries, pears
• Lunch meat with cheese on whole wheat crackers (like Triscuits)
• Handful of walnuts, pecans, cashews, almonds, peanuts (Keep in mind that some people may have a sensitivity to certain nuts even without being allergic; if you get gastric issues after eating a certain variety of nuts, you may want to try a different variety).
• Fruit and Veggies chips (made with just the fruit or veggie and maybe a little oil, check ingredients) – sweet potato, beets, apple, banana, mango.
• Hard boiled eggs