The Everyday Athlete’s Handbook: 4 steps to prevent pain and injury while staying strong, healthy, and engaged in the activities you love every day and in every stage of life.
Last week, we covered Part 1. - Sleep. This week, we'll be exploring how nutrition plays a role as one of the four pillars for maintaining a healthful life. It may seem obvious, yes, but it also often feels daunting- and that's exactly what we're trying to help you avoid! Because this is such an overwhelming topic with a plethora of information, our Registered Dietitian, Allyson Balzuweit, always recommends the simple (and truly actionable!) advice below.
Eat Real Food. It’s no mystery that processed foods lack nutritional benefits and contribute to overall poor health and a lack of energy needed for brain function and optimal performance. If you find yourself contemplating a label of a food that needs unwrapping or that touts a long list of ingredients, it’s more than likely not a great choice. Choosing foods that are as close to their natural state as possible will almost always prove to be the best choice. An abundance of fresh and frozen produce paired with a reasonable amount of clean protein, healthy fats from nuts, seeds, and unrefined oils, and minimally processed whole grains form the foundation for a healthy eating plan.
Limit Sugar. Let's face it, sugar tastes good and it’s EVERYWHERE! While it’s nearly impossible to entirely cut sugar out of your diet, we can all be more vigilant in watching out for unnecessary added sugars that don’t belong in some foods to begin with. Sugar is highly addictive. It is added (sneakily) to many processed and packaged foods, and there are also many different types of sugars with different names that may not be recognizable to the average consumer. Processed sugars are digested quickly so your blood sugar levels spike and then plummet as you digest them, making you feel sluggish, typically leading to cravings for even more. The American Heart Association recommends that men consume no more than 150 calories a day from added sugars (37.5 grams or 9 teaspoons). The recommendation for women is even less - 100 calories a day (25 grams or 6 teaspoons). For perspective, one 12 oz. Coke contains 140 calories from sugar, while a regular-sized Snickers bar contains 120 calories from sugar. Enjoying sweets in moderation can be part of a healthy lifestyle. Focus on “real food” treats such as high quality dark chocolate or a small amount of real ice cream (the low fat and fat free varieties are culprits for even more sugar!).
Hydrate. The general recommendation for hydration is half your body weight in ounces. For example, a person weighing 160 pounds should drink 80oz of water a day. However, weather, activity level, or other factors can affect how much water you might need. A good way to tell if you are properly hydrated is looking at the color of your urine. Your urine should be straw-colored, if it is yellow or darker this could indicate that you are dehydrated, or may be a sign of other medical conditions. Getting enough water is crucial for many reasons; proper hydration plays a role in cellular health and nutrition, organ function, joint lubrication, infection control, sleep quality, cognition, and mood, to name a few. Unfortunately, it is fairly easy to become dehydrated during the day; in fact, by the time you feel thirsty you are likely already dehydrated. So, if you need a little encouragement to keep reaching for your water, dropping some berries or other fresh fruit into your glass or water bottle can add a little flavor kick. Lastly, if you have any issues with urinary leakage, please don’t try to manage that by limiting your water intake. Instead, see our in-house pelvic floor physical therapists to help solve the issues without sacrificing the rest of your health.
Don’t Drink Your Calories. Fruit juice, sweet tea, soda, and alcohol are all empty calories, meaning they aren’t providing you with nutrients or helping you feel full. They are, however, helping expand your waistline and causing your blood sugar (think energy) to spike and then plummet. Try to cut back on these types of drinks by flavoring your water or drinking sparkling water. Much like sugar, see if you can allow yourself a little indulgence on only one or two days a week.
Eat Enough Protein. Protein plays an integral role in building and maintaining skeletal muscle mass, which is a huge indicator of overall health, but protein levels can also affect things like your energy levels, mood, bone health, and immune system. The recommendation is 0.7-1.0 grams of protein per pound of weight. So a 160 pound person should consume 112-160 grams of protein. Track your food for a few days and see whether you are getting enough with your normal eating habits or not. If not, make some intentional changes and check in again. Ideally protein should come from real food sources instead of supplements. We all know that we can get protein from meat, poultry and fish, but there are plenty of plant-based sources of protein including chickpeas, beans, lentils, nuts, quinoa, soy, and tempeh. Dairy such as Greek Yogurt, cheese and cottage cheese also provides a significant amount of protein as well as calcium which supports skeletal mass.
Though on some level we all know what we should and shouldn’t eat, we are constantly exposed to new information and opinions about food, nutrition, and trendy diets that can be both confusing and contradictory. If you’d like to dig a little deeper in your personal nutrition journey than what we covered here, Allyson, can help you make a game plan that’s compatible with your individual health and fitness goals.
Thanks for reading!
-The Functionize Team