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Natural Awakenings Naples and Fort Myers

Tips for Eating Like an Athlete

Feb 29, 2020 09:15AM ● By by Barbara Lewin

Optimal health translates into high energy and great performance. While these tips are directed to athletes interested in addressing the three most common issues—the need for increased energy, reducing body fat and improving performance by getting stronger and faster—everyone can benefit from applying them.

A new mindset: Consider food as fuel that energizes and helps to power workouts. Working out without eating right can result in the breakdown of muscle and the depletion of glycogen (energy) stores.

The best time for calories: Consume calories around the most active part of the day. Avoid eating a big dinner and snacking in front of the TV. 

Performance boosters: Foods high in nitric oxide not only boost performance, they also improve cardiovascular function and reduce blood pressure. Arugula, swiss chard, beets and leafy greens are good choices.

Don’t skip breakfast: Eating breakfast boosts metabolism. Intermittent fasters and early risers should be aware that research supports getting that first meal of the day.

Vitamin D and muscular endurance: Even in the Sunshine State individuals have low vitamin D levels. Pro athletes are required to have vitamin D levels tested due to the relationship with muscular endurance. 

Hydration: The body is 60 to 70 percent water. While Florida summers are especially warm, it’s also important to take in fluids when it’s not as hot. Lack of fluids can be misconstrued by the brain as hunger. Staying well hydrated can also keep extra weight off.  

Eat slow-burning, complex carbohydrates: Avoid simple carbs or sugars, unless the intention is to burn them off. Sweet potato, quinoa and beans are examples of slow-burning carbs that help to stave off an afternoon energy dip.

Recovery nutrition: Workouts over one hour require recovery nutrition within 20 to 30 minutes. Otherwise, it will take up to 72 hours for energy return to optimal levels. A ratio of 4:1 and 5:1 of simple carbs to protein works best. Milk drinkers might be satisfied with chocolate milk, however a nut milk with protein or a plant-based Greek yogurt and some fruit is better.

Eat inflammation-reducing foods: Delayed onset muscle soreness can occur 24 to 36 hours after a workout. Omega-3 fats, found in fatty fish such as wild salmon and sardines, have been found to reduce muscle soreness. Vegetarian sources include walnuts, flaxseeds, chia and hemp seeds.

Include foods such as tart cherries or drink a few ounces of tart cherry juice—just don't overdo it. Use spices, especially turmeric. Include lots of colorful plant foods. Avoid foods on the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen List ( Berries and dark chocolate are great sources of polyphenols that help reduce inflammation and oxidative stress.

Caffeine: Caffeine is a personal issue. Individuals that don’t metabolize caffeine well are better served by drinking green tea, which is more calming due to the L-theanine.  

Avoid Fast Foods: True athletes rarely eat fast foods because they are aware of the effect that these have on the body. Make good food choices the majority of the time.

Listen to the Body: Listen to the body’s signals. Ignore the “no pain, no gain” principle to avoid the risk of injury and the time it takes to recover.

Barbara Lewin is a registered dietitian, U.S. Olympic Registry sports dietitian and functional nutritionist. For more information, call 239-300-0072 or visit

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