Nutritional Tips


foods that help athletes eating for performanceThe following is a post by Kelly Springer, a registered dietitian/nutritionist and the founder of Kelly’s Choice LLC.

Athletes need more than just determination and challenging practices to perform well. Choosing the right fuel allows athletes to perform at their best. Conflicting nutrition information and countless food and beverage products marketed to athletes can make this an overwhelming task. A one-size fits all approach does not work when it comes to timing and selection of performance foods. Do what works best for your body! Use these tips as a guide for eating for performance so you can maximize your athletic training.

Nutrient-rich foods are your best bet to stay on your game.

Nutrient-rich is a term that gets thrown around a lot in the nutrition world.

A nutrient-rich food is one that is rich in nutrients, particularly vitamins and minerals and low in fat. Micronutrients can reduce the risk of cancer and disease, support immune health, and supply athletes with long-lasting energy. Nutrient-rich foods include lean meat, whole grains, low-fat and fat-free dairy, fruits and vegetables, legumes, and nuts. These foods are often found along the perimeter of the grocery store.

Here are two nutrient-rich shopping lists you can use:

Foods that are heavily processed tend to be higher in fat, sugar, and salt and are not considered nutrient-rich. High consumption of these foods, such as cakes, cookies, potato chips, crackers, candy, and sugar-sweetened beverages may lead to nutrient deficiencies, diabetes, obesity, and heart disease. These foods are often found in the center isles of the grocery store and can be tempting due to marketing and advertising from food companies.

Eating meals frequently at fast-food establishments and restaurants can also increase your intake of foods high in fat and sodium.

When you eat is important for your athletic performance.

You may wince at the thought of eating before a game while your teammate chows down on everything and anything in site.

Nerves and fear of gastrointestinal distress are common reasons why athletes chose not to eat before a game. You might perform best on an empty stomach and that is okay.

Keep in mind that your brain and muscles rely on carbohydrates for energy. Try to eat a meal 3-4 hours before a game that is high in carbohydrate (200-300 g.) and lean protein. A tuna fish sandwich on whole-wheat bread, a bagel with peanut butter, or a peanut butter and banana pocket are a few examples. Thirty minutes to 1 hour before a game, chose a 200-300 calorie snack that is high in carbohydrates, moderate in protein, and low in fat. An apple with peanut butter, hummus and pretzels, or trail mix are excellent options. Granola bars are easy to pack in a gym bag, but chose wisely as many resemble candy bars. Look for a short ingredient list, low amounts of sugar, and high protein and fiber.

Here’s a high protein recipe to help you in eating for performance on game day.

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How Much Water Should You Drink Each Day?

If you are training regularly, you will probably need between one half and one whole ounce of water (or other fluids) for each pound of body weight per day.

To determine your baseline range for water requirement, use the following formula:

Low end of range= Body weight (lbs) x 0.5 = (ounces of fluid/day)
High end of range=Body weight (lbs) x 1 = (ounces of fluid/day)


12 Foods Every Athlete Should Eat

Who do you think is going to last longer on the field: the guy who sucked down a bag of Cheetos 15 minutes before the game, or the athlete who had sweet potatoes and tuna for lunch? We’ll give you a hint: powdery sticks of fried cornmeal are not what fuel most top athletes. So what does? That’s what we asked nutrition experts who work with pro athletes in several sports. Here were their 12 most common recommendations.

Sweet Potatoes

These orange tubers are relatively easy to prepare and incredibly potent fueling options for athletes. “[Sweet potatoes] are an excellent source of vitamin A and a good source of vitamin C and some of the B vitamins,” says Kelly Pritchett, assistant professor at Central Washington University. “Athletes can eat it for lunch and dinner topped with a protein source like cottage cheese or black beans.” Get started with 5 non-boring ways to eat sweet potatoes.


This breakfast staple can also be tossed into protein shakes to kick up the carb and calorie count if you’re looking to pack on weight. Just make sure to opt for steel-cut—instant oats have a glycemic index of 83, compared to 55 for the “average” oat. This means that the instant option is more likely to cause an insulin spike, which will cause you to store all those carbs as flab.

“Oatmeal is a great source of carbohydrate energy for athletes, plus it’s high in fiber, which keeps you full longer and helps maintain glucose levels,” says Pritchett. “[Plus it’s] 100 percent whole grain, which may reduce the risk of heart disease.”


Bananas are extremely convenient for busy athletes—portable and encased in biodegradable wrappers. They also deliver a potent dose of good nutrition. “Bananas are an excellent source of potassium, an electrolyte that gets lost in sweat and helps maintain low blood pressure,” says Nancy Clark, MS, RD and author of Nancy Clark’s Sports Nutrition Guidebook. “Bananas are also a good source of carbs to fuel the muscles, and they taste great with chocolate milk and/or peanut butter, [which are] other good sports foods.”


Another athlete-friendly food that comes pre-wrapped. “Oranges are rich in vitamin C to help with healing and boost the immune system,” Clark says. “[They’re] also juicy and refreshing, which makes them a great snack at halftime.”


“[They are] nutrient dense—dense in overall calories and good for athletes with high caloric needs, but also dense in good nutrients,” says Kate Patton, RD, who works with the Cleveland Indians. “[Nuts have] unsaturated fat to fight inflammation, protein to support recovery, fiber to help maintain energy levels, and vitamins and minerals to support all the physiological functions they play a role in.” Some nuts high in monounsaturated fat include pecans, peanuts and walnuts. Munch on a handful between classes or sprinkle them into Greek yogurt for a quick, healthy breakfast.

Olive Oil

“Olive oil [is a good choice] because its monounsaturated fat elicits anti-inflammatory benefits to athletes, who put a lot of stress on their bodies,” says Patton. You can add olive oil to your diet quite easily: Drizzle it over pasta with some salt and pepper to carb up after practice, or spritz it on top of a salad at lunch.


This is a heavy hitter when it comes to athlete nutrition. It’s loaded with muscle-building protein and anti-inflammatory omega-3 fats, which can help you recover from bumps and bruises more quickly. Drizzle some olive oil over a salmon filet, give it a few squeezes of lemon and toss it in the oven—you’ve got dinner.

Flax Seed

Flax seed is also high in anti-inflammatory omega-3’s, while packing fiber and a moderate amount of protein. Sprinkle them into soups or over salads for a flavor (and nutrition) boost.

Whey Protein  

There’s a reason why bodybuilders, athletes and health-minded folks swear by this stuff. Whey protein (along with other foods) has a Protein Digestibility Corrected Amino Acid Score (PDCAAS) score of 1. The PCDAAS score of a food is the “gold standard” in protein, measuring a food’s ability to deliver essential amino acids to the body. A score of 1 is the highest a food can achieve. Whey earns its place on this list since it’s incredibly easy for athletes to tote around and consume. Of course, if you’re not interested in plunking down your hard earned cash, you can just drink a glass of milk. Whey (and casein, which also has a PCDAAS of 1) is a derivative of milk. You can mix the protein powder into a cool glass of water for a midafternoon snack, or down a glass of chocolate milk for a potent, inexpensive post-workout recovery beverage.


Tuna, another food with a PCDAAS of 1, is only slightly more difficult to prepare than a protein shake, especially if you buy the canned stuff. Mix it with avocado and spread it on whole wheat bread for an easy, healthy lunch, or pull it and toss it with a salad.


“Eggs are just such a nutritious food and the perfect food to have for breakfast,” says Erica Giovinazzo MS, RD and a trainer at Brick CrossFit in New York City. “They’re high in protein, good fat and the yolks are rich in carotenoids, a nutrient that can help eye health.

Coconut Oil

If you’ve never cooked with it, now’s the time to start. It’s packed with medium chain triglycerides, which can power you through those last grueling minutes of a practice or game. “Coconut oil is one of the best oils you can have in your diet because it’s great to cook with,” Giovinazzo says. “It has a high smoke point, so it can be cooked at a high heat. Some research has said that coconut oil may also be good for metabolism and energy from fats because it is high in medium chain triglycerides (MCTs).”


Tired of Water? Try Eating Your Fluids Next Workout

Tired of lugging a jug of water with you every time you hit the gym? It’s certainly important to stay hydrated during tough workouts or long practices, but drinking quarts of water every day can become irksome.

Fortunately, fruits and vegetables can supply much of the water athletes need. A study at the University of Aberdeen Medical School found that water-rich fruits and vegetables do a better job of hydrating the body than water, and even most sports drinks, because they also provide healthy doses of vitamins, minerals, sugars and amino acids.

Fruits and vegetables offer an additional benefit to athletes trying to trim down. Since much of their mass comes from water, they help you feel full longer and lose weight quicker.

Next time you go to the gym, try eating your fluid intake by consuming one of these fruits or vegetables after you work out:

Celery – 96 percent water
A stalk of celery may not seem to have much nutritional value, but it actually provides the body with plenty of magnesium, potassium and sodium, helping you recover from a tough workout.

Lettuce – 95 percent water
OK, you wouldn’t take a break from Leg Presses to snack on a head of lettuce, but many athletes opt for a salad after workouts to help themselves recover quicker.

Watermelon – 92 percent water
Due to its unique combination of natural sugars, salts and minerals, watermelon was at the top of the University of Aberdeen Medical School’s list of quick-hydrating snacks.

Grapefruit – 91 percent water
A recent study by the Scripps Clinic in California found that grapefruit aids weight loss by lowering insulin levels and curbing hunger.

Orange – 87 percent water
Oranges are a halftime staple for good reason. Not only are they loaded with water, they also contain more than 100 percent of the recommended daily allowance of Vitamin C.

Other fruits and vegetables with high water content include carrots, broccoli, apples, strawberries and pears. Pack a couple of these delicious fruits next time you work out  and see for yourself how quickly they help you recover.

Photo:  MSNBC


3 Fruits and 3 Vegetables Athletes Must Eat

Fueling for sports requires special attention to diet and adherence to the proper ratio of macronutrients—carbohydrates, protein and fat. However, athletes also have to pay attention to micronutrients—the vitamins and minerals that fine-tune their bodies for peak performance and facilitate day-to-day bodily functions.

Here are six fruits and vegetables athletes need to eat as often as possible. Make sure they’re on your grocery list!


Tart Cherries

Foods rich in antioxidants help reduce inflammation and decrease muscle soreness. Various studies have shown the positive effects on exercise recovery of tart cherries, due to their high antioxidant properties. As you would imagine, tart cherries can have a slightly bitter taste, so mixing them into smoothies or combining their juice with seltzer water are easy ways to consume this important fruit.


Oranges are one of the best sources of Vitamin C, which can reduce exercise-induced oxidative stress and support a healthy immune system. Vitamin C also helps athletes absorb iron from plant-based foods. This is especially important for female athletes, who are more likely to be iron-deficient. Squeeze fresh orange juice on beans or lentils as a dressing, or cut orange slices to mix into a spinach salad.


Bananas deliver easily digestible, low-glycemic carbohydrates, which provide fuel before practices or games. The are also a great source of potassium, an electrolyte that can be lost during strenuous exercise. Top a banana with peanut butter for a quick, easy and effective pre-workout snack.


Sweet Potatoes

Sweet potatoes are an excellent source of vitamin C, manganese (for energy production), fiber (for healthy digestion), vitamin B6 (for nerve function and muscle contraction) and potassium. Saying they’re nutritionally stacked is a bit of an understatement. They’re also super easy to cook. Chop a sweet potato into a salad or mix one with scrambled eggs and spinach for a fast, healthy meal.


According to a 2012 study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, consumption of nitrate-rich, whole beetroot improves running performance due to its ability to increase dilation of the blood vessels, allowing for greater blood flow and improving oxygen and nutrient delivery to working muscles. Mix the beet greens into a salad and roast the beet to add sweetness and texture. You can also mix the beet and beet greens into a smoothie. (See recipes here).


Dark green vegetables like spinach are full of nutrients, high in calcium, vitamin C, magnesium, zinc and iron—all important for athletic performance. Spinach is also a source of vitamin K, which helps athletes maintain healthy bones. If you get bored with plain spinach or salads, get creative. Mix fresh spinach into your next soup, or use it as a topper in sandwiches and quesadillas.





You Should Eat the Peel of These 12 Fruits and Vegetables

In all likelihood, the first thing you do when you eat an orange is tear off that thick peel and throw it straight into the garbage. Guess what? You’re missing out on a lot of nutrients. The peel of an orange has nearly twice as much vitamin C as the flesh inside. And though it may seem gross at first, there are plenty of tasty ways you can eat orange peels if you’re willing to get a little creative.

The same is true of lots of fruits and veggies; the peel is often the most nutritious part, and can be eaten despite what you think. Bananas? Yep. Watermelon? Sounds unbelievable, but it’s true: that rind is great for you. Here are 12 foods with powerful peels you should be eating, along with suggestions for how to add them to your diet.



The skin of an apple contains about half of the apple’s overall dietary fiber content. A medium apple also delivers 9 milligrams of vitamin C, 100 IUs of vitamin A, and 200 grams of potassium. By removing the peel, you lose about a third of those nutrients. The peel also has four times more vitamin K than its flesh; about 5 percent of your daily value. Vitamin K—also prevalent in meat and in spinach and other green veggies—helps you form blood clots that patch you up when you have a bad scrape and helps activate the proteins your body needs for cell growth and healthy bone maintenance.

An apple’s skin boasts potential benefits beyond its vitamin content. An antioxidant called quercetin, found mostly in the apple’s skin, can help lung function, ease breathing problems and protect your lungs from irritants. Quercetin is also believed to fight off brain tissue damage and protect your memory.

RELATED: Improving Endurance with Apples

One study identified another compound that’s found primarily in the peel, called triterpenoids, which appears to inhibit or kill certain types of cancer cells throughout the body. And the ursolic acid in apple skin has been shown by studies to stimulate muscle growth, increase skeletal muscle and decrease risk of obesity.



A potato’s skin packs more nutrients—iron, calcium, potassium, magnesium, vitamin B6 and vitamin C—ounce-for-ounce than the rest of the potato. For example, 100 grams of potato peel packs seven times more calcium and 17 times more iron than the same amount of potato flesh. Ditch the skin and you’ll also lose up to 90 percent of a potato’s iron content and half of its fiber.

And don’t forget the skin of a sweet potato is loaded with a significant amount of beta-carotene, which converts to vitamin A during digestion. Vitamin A is essential for cell health and immune system regulation, and it is extremely useful in maintaining organ function.

Citrus (Oranges, Lemons, Grapefruits, Limes)


The peel of an orange packs in twice as much vitamin C as what’s inside. It also contains higher concentrations of riboflavin, vitamin B6, calcium, magnesium and potassium. The peel’s flavonoids have anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory properties. (Citrus fruit also boosts iron absorption.)

As nutritious as citrus peels are, you’re unlikely to start eating oranges whole. The entire peel is bitter and difficult to digest. Instead, grate the peel using a microplane or another tool and sprinkle it on top of salads, or in a vinaigrette dressing. Citrus shavings make a good pairing with ice cream and chocolate as well.

RELATED: 6 Vitamins and Minerals Athletes Need to Know



The dark green skin contains the majority of a cucumber’s antioxidants, insoluble fiber and potassium. The cucumber peel also holds most of its vitamin K. The next time you have a Greek salad, ask the chef not to peel your cukes.



You’ve probably been spooning out the green flesh inside for years, but a kiwi’s fuzzy exterior is also edible. In fact, the skin contains more flavonoids, antioxidants and vitamin C than the insides—and double the fiber. So ditch the spoon, wash the kiwi and eat it like a peach. If you find the fuzz unappetizing,  scrape it off first.



An eggplant’s purple hue comes from a powerful antioxidant called nasunin, which helps protect against cancerous development, especially in the brain and other parts of the nervous system. Nasunin is also believed to have anti-aging properties.

Eggplant skin is also rich in chlorogenic acid, a phytochemical that boasts antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, and also promotes glucose tolerance. Although the eggplant interior contains chlorogenic acid, it’s much more prevalent in the skin.



Researchers found that mango skin contains properties similar to resveratrol, which helps burn fat and inhibits the production of mature fat cells. Mango flesh extracts were also tested, but did not produce the same results, which suggests that one needs to eat mango skin in order to get this beneficial property.

A mango’s peel also contains larger quantities of carotenoids, polyphenols, omega-3, omega-6 and polyunsaturated fatty acids than its flesh. Another study found compounds more heavily concentrated in mango’s skin that fight off cancer, diabetes and heart disease. Mango skin also has quercetin.

The skin of a mango can be eaten raw, or cooked along with the insides. Another way to eat both flesh and skin is to pickle the entire mango.



Since the skin of a carrot is the same color as what’s directly beneath it (like a tomato or a red pepper), the peel and its flesh have similar nutritional properties. However, the highest concentration of phytonutrients is found in a carrot’s skin or immediately underneath. Just rinse the carrot thoroughly rather than peeling it.



All watermelon contains citrulline, which has antioxidant properties and converts to arginine, an essential amino acid that is beneficial to the heart, immune system and circulatory system. But most of that citrulline is found in the rind. Eating a rind might sound unappetizing, but it can be pickled (like a cucumber), or simply sautéed and seasoned. Or throw it in a blender with the watermelon flesh, and add some lime.

RELATED: Watermelon, The Athlete’s Superfruit



Like apple skin and mango skin, the outside of an onion’s skin contains quercetin. Although that skin is not directly edible, you can draw out some of those nutrients by adding it to stock.



Pineapple contains bromelain, an enzyme that can help reduce inflammation, especially in the nose and sinuses. One study found that a pineapple’s core and peel yielded the highest amount of bromelain in the fruit, at 40 percent by weight.

The skin and core of a pineapple straight-up would be tough on your digestive system, so try putting them through a juicer or sauté them for a few minutes in a pan.



A banana‘s peel contains way more fiber than its flesh, and is likewise richer in potassium.

The peel also contains lutein, a powerful antioxidant that plays a role in maintaining healthy eye function. An amino acid called tryptophan is more highly concentrated in the peel than the insides. Among other things, tryptophan is believed to ease depression by increasing the body’s levels of serotonin, a neurotransmitter in the brain that affects mood.

Although the peel has a bitter taste and tough, ropey consistency most people aren’t used to, an overripe banana (brown or black) becomes thinner, sweeter and easier to chew. You can also put the peel (ripe or overripe) through a juicer with the rest of the banana. Or you can boil the peel for several minutes to make it softer, or throw it in the frying pan.  If you want to get really creative, bake a banana peel in the oven for 20 minutes or so, or until it becomes dried out, then use it to make tea.

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