10+ 'Plus Foods' Hacks to Make you a Better Athlete

Updated: Jul 18


When looking at the complete athlete we need to look beyond the talent & effort and think about how their diet plays into their performance, recovery and inflammation. There is hidden inflammation within everyone and when your immune system is trying to heal that, it is at odds with healing workout and injury related inflammation.


A Functional Nutrition approach to this looks at all the bodies systems, diet and lifestyle and how they affect each other and the athlete. Below are 10+ nutrition and lifestyle changes you can make today to be a better and healthier athlete.





Water

Water is crucial to every system in your body. If you are dehydrated you will not perform to your best! You need to be drinking water all day whether you feel thirsty or not!

Your body needs a minimum of 64 ounces a day, before adding in your hydration needs for activity and weather. If you have a game or practice you should be drinking at least 32-64 more ounces in and around that session depending on temperature and intensity. Upon waking up, drinking 16 ounces will help kick off your brain and digestive system as well as all your body's systems. The best way to get your body's daily 64 ounce needs is to get a 64oz or 2x32oz container (I use a half gallon mason jar), fill it up in the morning with good, clean water, add some fresh lemon juice and a pinch of sea salt. If it is sitting there or in your backpack, you will drink it by the end of the day. Plus you do not have to keep track of how many glasses you have had that day!


Greens

Leafy greens can be a lot more palatable than you think! My favorites are watercress, arugula and kale. All three can be chopped up finely like parsley and put into soups, pasta sauce, salads and more. In studies, watercress and arugula have been shown to heal damaged DNA within two weeks of eating daily. You should have a goal to eat one bag of arugula a week. Whether as a salad or mixed into other foods.


Leafy greens contain folate which is a part of red blood cell creation in your body! They also help with reducing inflammation in your body, hidden or not! Eat the greens often that you like and again, hide the ones in other foods you don’t. Watercress is fantastic on a sandwich!


Chew your Food Completely

Digestion starts when you put food in your mouth. Well it starts earlier technically, but we don’t need to go back that far. You should ‘liquify’ your food in your mouth which takes a little focus, especially when you are starving and just started eating. Focus on chewing each mouthful 20-30 times before you swallow your food! This will help your digestion system to use less energy and to get nutrition to your body much faster! Plus it will increase the digestive enzymes being released. After a big meal in the evening go for a walk to clear your mind and to help digestion speed up!


Morning Shake

If you do not have the time for a good breakfast then a good shake/smoothie will set you up for success and recovery from your training the day before. Whether it is a good protein shake or a smoothie of low sugar yogurt, milk and fruit you can’t go wrong. Plus it counts towards your daily hydration! Click here for my morning shake recipe


A bagel or sugary cereal does not make a good breakfast. Don’t ever leave home hungry but you should be including eggs, fruit, or whole grains. If not then go the smoothie route!


One last note on smoothies and shakes. Make sure to chew as you drink to release digestive enzymes. Sounds crazy but trust me!


Vitamin D & B12

When tested most people are low on these crucial vitamins. They are crucial in most of your body’s systems and most importantly in your immune system. I will go deeper into this in another article but I personally take a 5000IU + Vitamin K supplement every day and a B12 once or twice a week! My doctor told me that a 2,000IU D daily supplement will just keep you at the level you are at. So if it is already low, you will stay low etc. Your doctor can order a vitamin level blood test to see where you stand! I can analyze the test from a functional nutrition standpoint to help you get better insight into your needs!


Coconut Water

The absolute best hydration you can have before, during and after physical activity is coconut water! It is a perfect balance of water, sugar and electrolytes. With the artificial sports’s drinks your immune system actually has to kick into high gear just to remove the toxins your body does not recognize from said drink. This is not good for performance nor your short and long term health!


Sugar

Do you have a sugar addiction? The world health organization recommends keeping sugar intake to below 25 grams per day. I shoot for 20 or less. This includes any added sugars in food as well as in juices. This does not mean you should replace it with artificial sweeteners. Keep track for one day how much sugar you eat and you are probably up around 150 grams.


Besides the inflammatory and health risks of eating too much sugar, there is a major nutrition issue since sugar is an anti-nutrient. Meaning for your body to metabolize (process) sugar it must pull nutrients out of your body to do it. For example for every molecule of sugar to be processed, your body uses 50 molecules of magnesium plus zinc. Cue the immune system which is then suppressed for at least 30 minutes after sugar ingestion. Low magnesium may also be the cause of your migraines. Stay tuned for an article about migraines!


Sugar is similar to a drug and if you are going to sugar detox, you should reduce it by 10% a day. You will find in the end that you do not need as much sugar to keep you satisfied.


Again, if sugary food is all you have before or during a practice/game then eat it to make sure you have energy. In fact if you need to satisfy your sweet tooth then eat it then! This way it will be burned off immediately and not taxing your body!


Eat Whole Foods

I don’t mean food from Whole Foods the store but foods that do not have an ingredients list. So fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts, meats, fish etc. Basically the perimeter of the supermarket. Many foods in the isles are processed and have ingredients that extend their shelf life!

The more of these whole foods you eat (PLUS FOODS) every day the less of the MINUS FOODS (junk food) you will eat!


There are many whole foods bars available which I recommend for athletes. For example many Kind bars have very few ingredients and can set you up for success at practice! Junk food makers use everything they can to make you crave their food. Resist the temptation!


Carbs

When one thinks of carbo loading they think about pasta and bread the night before a game. While in moderation it is beneficial you should also be looking at a much more balanced diet over all and pre-game. Fruits and vegetables are full of carbs. Choose whole grain breads over white and wheat. If you want pasta the night before a game then eat half the amount of chosen pasta but add in meatballs and veggies like broccoli, spinach or arugula! Just look for balance. My favorite pasta is Trader Joe’s Organic Brown Rice pasta. That is a great substitute for wheat pasta.

Side note: I did Ironman Lake Placid in 1999 without a pasta dinner the night before.


Nuts & Seeds

These are my favorite snacks to stave off hunger. There are so many benefits and will be discussed in future articles. Keeping a serving handy each day with a couple of dark chocolate chips mixed in is a perfect mid-morning or afternoon snack! Try to rotate your favorites each day to get the best nutritional results! Mine are cashews, sunflower seeds and almonds. Mixed nuts are a great way to get a variety of nutrition. I also love a banana with almond or peanut butter for a quick snack! Eat organically when possible.


Probiotics & Fermented foods

Probiotic supplements are available everywhere and are a quick, easy way to build up the good bacteria in your digestive system. Even better are fermented foods that go back centuries as a way of preserving foods. Most ferments are made with a base of a vegetable, salty water and spices.


Fermented pickles and sourkrauts found in store refrigerators are two of my favorites. (Organic is even better) Kombucha and yogurts are other well known ferments. Just be sure they are low in sugar for best results. Bad bacteria feed on excess sugar in your body. Drinking a third of a bottle of Kombucha a day is all you need! Fermented foods & drinks are full of good bacteria which are the knights protecting your stomach and intestines from letting unbroken down foods and bad actors into your bloodstream. A strong, good bacteria filled intestine helps brain function once again because of its connection via the Vagus nerve. If your gut is happy, your brain is happy! Having a good bacteria balance in your gut has been shown to reduce anxiety, depression and more! It also reduces the risk of stomach viruses!


Post Workout Re-Nutrition

The absolute best post workout or game re-nutrition is coconut water and a banana! They are full of the electrolytes, fiber and nutrition your body needs! This routine will help your post workout recovery a great deal!


Sleep

I am sure you hear this from everyone, but get enough sleep. Your body needs to recover and this is when it mostly happens. Plan ahead with work and school so that you are not staying up late catching up every night. Use weekends to catch up or start work for the week ahead!


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Keep this article bookmarked and start small with a few changes and eventually work them all into your diet and routine!


By Rob Walters - Certified Functional Nutrition Counselor, FNC


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