Planning and scheduling meals is an invaluable skill from an athlete’s point of view. While knowing what they should be eating is a something many athletes can understand, often they fall down on the execution.
Generally, athletes know their weekly training plan in advance, the time they will be training each day, what type of training they will be doing, and how long each session will be.
Different types of training put different stresses on the body and the nutritional requirements are slightly different.
For example, a high volume gym session will increase the protein requirements for an athlete, while interval runs on the pitch will increase the carbohydrate requirements.
The athlete has to ensure that they have the right foods available at the right time so that they will have a positive response to training.
Athletes should sit down at the weekend and write out their schedule for the following week. Possible meal options are written down and a sample shopping list is generated. You don’t have to stick rigidly to the plan. You might change a chicken casserole to a chicken stir-fry on a particular meal. The important thing is that you have the ingredients to begin with.
If you have an empty fridge or cupboard, then you are more likely to make poorer food choices. Athletes should generally be having protein, vegetables and carbohydrate with every breakfast, lunch and dinner, although this might change based on goals (e.g. trying to lose body fat).
Therefore, these are the staples that should be available at all times.
Protein sources would include : poultry, red meat, fish, beans, nuts and nut butters, dairy products.
Carbohydrate sources would include: oats, potatoes, rice, pasta, noodles, quinoa, butternut squash, sweet potato.
Vegetable sources would include: green leafy vegetables, onions, peppers, tomatoes, garlic, mushrooms, etc.
Fats are an important part of your overall diet, so athletes need to have healthy fat sources available: cooking oils such as olive oil and coconut oil, dairy products, avocados, seeds such as chia, hemp and flax seeds, whole nuts and nut butters.
There are some foods that are nutritious and versatile and I would advise any person to have these in their kitchen:
So you’ve planned your meal schedule, you’ve bought your ingredients, you have all the utensils – now you have to cook them. This is another hugely important skill, especially for people who are going to college for the first time and have to fend for themselves.
In my college days, I’ve seen my housemates survive for four years on the worst diets possible – sausages and sausage rolls, chocolate and crisps, soft drinks, chips. While part of the reason was they were saving their money for socialising, another reason was that they didn’t know how to cook. Eating processed foods and takeaways won’t suit someone who is serious about their health, training and performance.
The easiest way to get better at anything is to practise. Get some cookbooks, watch cooking programmes on television or watch a family member at work in the kitchen. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes – you’ll get better with time.
Many people think that it takes hours to cook a nutritious meal but you can have nutritious breakfasts and lunches prepared and cooked in under 15 minutes and nutritious dinners prepared and cooked in less than half an hour. Prep your food at the weekend when you have more free time. Peel carrots, chop onions and peppers and store them in airtight containers. Soak oats in the fridge overnight to reduce cooking time. Small actions like these will speed up cooking time and make your life easier.
Because most athletes are working or studying, they might not be able to prepare all their foods at home every day. They are at the mercy of what is available at work or college canteens. If the canteen food is not up to scratch, there are a number of options available.
You could ask the canteen manager to put healthier options on the menu and you could supply some suggestions. In my experience, chefs like to experiment and try new things. You can prepare and bring your own food with you. Most canteens will have a microwave available so you can re-heat your food if needed. Bringing small snacks with you will also prevent you getting a chocolate bar or soft drink from the vending machine.
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