According to a report by an Oregon State University researcher, athletes should eat high fiber, low-fat food balanced with their training regimen for high performance - and to maintain muscle and burn fat.
Competitive and recreational athletes may either want to lose weight without losing lean muscle, or gain weight, mostly lean muscle. This is very difficult to do with caloric restriction - they may not have enough energy to exercise or they may feel tired, putting themselves at risk of injury.
All the evidence shows that counting calories does not work - what does work is regular maintenance of a healthy lifestyle, even during breaks or when not in training.
Ideally, an athlete's optimum body weight should include the following criteria:
- Minimizing health risks, along with good eating habits.
- Taking genetic makeup and family history into consideration.
- Weight appropriate for age and level of physical development.
- Maintaining weight without dieting or otherwise restricting food intake.
According to the OSU researcher’s report, it is important to adopt a low-energy-dense diet and consume a large amount of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meat, fish and low-fat dairy regularly.
Beverages high in sugar, especially soda and alcohol should be minimized. Ideally, half of every plate of food should be filled with fruits and veggies, while overly refined and processed food should be avoided completely.
Other key points of the report include:
- Eat breakfast daily - up to 80% of people who lost at least 30 pounds in a year and kept it off were regular breakfast eaters. Eat a breakfast rich in high-fiber whole grains, fruit, high-quality protein such as egg whites and low-fat dairy. Skip processed cereals.
- Get plenty of protein - most athletes get plenty of protein, but they are not always strategic about refueling after exercise and spreading their protein intake throughout the day. Some athletes may need to get as much as 30% of their calories from protein - and spreading that protein out throughout the day is the best strategy. Nuts, beans and legumes are an excellent source of protein, along with meat.
- Exercise regularly - many seasonal athletes can pack on pounds during off-season, making it that much harder to get performance-ready.
- Avoid fad diets - combining caloric restriction with intense training can actually make it more difficult to lose weight. Severe weight loss can also make an athlete stressed out and tired.
While this report is aimed mainly at competitive and recreational athletes, these tips are meant for anyone who wants to make their diet healthier.
Source: A High Performance Diet for Athletes.