Better Nutrition for Student-Athletes

As a student-athlete, your busy schedule demands that you are on-the-go from morning until night. Planning meals and snacks ahead of time can seem pretty challenging in addition to balancing classes, homework and study time, practices, and games. Not to mention, eating healthy can be kind of boring and not so fun, making it easier to just grab that quick snack before you head out the door.

But if you truly want to perform your best in games, at practice, and in your academics, putting forth a little extra effort to fill the holes in your nutrition will be well worth it. By adding some key age-appropriate supplements and keeping quick protein-packed snacks and meals on hand, you can up your game without missing a beat.

All About the Macros
Why does food type matter? For several important reasons. First, chemicals and imitation food additives found in junk food and sweet treats can actually sap your body of the good nutrients it gets from real food. Not only that, but processed and high glycemic sugars cause the body to release a surge of insulin, which causes a spike and drop in blood sugar, resulting in feelings of lethargy and fatigue, as well as increasing cravings for even more junk. Second, our bodies are designed to work best when we take in all three of the energy-providing macronutrients: protein, dietary fat, and carbohydrates. All three provide energy and are vital for performing at our peak physical and mental abilities.

Therefore, snacks and meals should ideally contain all three. Protein provides amino acids necessary for muscle growth and recovery. Carbohydrates provide instant and long-term energy and keep muscles full and hydrated. Healthy dietary fats are essential for proper brain, nervous system, and cellular function, as well as hormone production, muscle growth, and repair. Carbohydrates and fats are usually pretty easy to come by as stand-alone foods or as part of prepared meals or snacks. So, adding protein to a meal usually requires a bit more thinking and planning, although it’s not difficult by any means.

Meal Frequency and Timing
If you’re in class all day, sometimes going without food for extended periods of time is a necessity. But if your classes get broken up throughout the day with free time, recesses, practices, and study halls, you can use the opportunity to grab a quick snack from your locker or backpack. As for meals, it’s essential to eat three square meals a day, as you’ve probably heard before.

Remember to combine a healthy fat, protein, and complex carbohydrates. This gives your body the vitamins, minerals, and macronutrients necessary to power your studies and your workouts. Aim for three meals and three snacks daily, and try to get quality food in your body every 2-4 hours.

Mind Your Meals
If you’re eating at a school cafeteria or lunchroom, there’s a pretty good chance the planned menu items include all of the macronutrients to keep you properly fueled. But if you plan to eat out or brown bag it, make sure you have an array of foods with you. Keep it varied and keep it colorful.

Some convenient ways to add protein to a meal or snack include having ready-made sources available to top off a meal or pair with a piece of fruit or crackers for a whole snack. Joe Barfield, owner of the Tri Cities Max Muscle Nutrition store and consultant to student-athletes, lists his top pick for snacks as a nut butter such as peanut, almond, or cashew paired alongside some wheat crackers, or spread on a bagel or a rice cake. For animal protein, Joe suggests keeping small pouches of tuna or a tuna and crackers pack in your backpack, car, or gym bag. Eat before or after practice if you don’t have time to get in a whole meal.

Snack On This, Not That
Snacking between meals is not only a great way to keep energy and blood sugar up, it’s also just fun! Instead of reaching for the snack machine and grabbing that bag of Cheetos or Doritos, try a snack pack size of wheat crackers along with a snack cup of peanut butter. The peanut butter will give you healthy fat and protein to sustain you longer in both mental and physical activities.

After-school frozen treats like ice cream bars and popsicles are tempting when you’re hungry and have low blood sugar from not having eaten since lunch. The best way to avoid giving in to a craving is to stay away from the snack bar. If you want a crunchy, healthy treat to satisfy your craving, go for a graham cracker or cookies and cream flavored protein bar. It will provide nutrients similar to a whole meal and is the perfect fuel for before practice.

Late nights up studying and doing homework can make you hungry! Instead of reaching for a slice of cold pizza or a cup of ramen noodles, try a serving of beef or turkey jerky and a banana. Or, opt for a small bowl of dried fruit and nuts along with a slice of cheese. The fat and protein will help keep your brain power up without a super sleepy blood sugar crash.

Finally, if you’re looking for a sweet alternative to cookies or pastries, try a cold and creamy protein shake using MaxPro Gourmet protein infused with real chocolate and cookie pieces mixed with milk and topped with sugar-free whipped cream.

Snacking smart and tasty doesn’t have to be time consuming or super expensive. By having a stash of healthy foods available in your fridge and pantry, you’ll be able to make smart choices when hunger strikes instead of going for empty, sugary calories that sap energy and nutrients. Fuel your brain and body with healthy fats, protein, and complex carbohydrates to perform at your best!

Budget-Friendly Ideas
Most college students are on a tight budget, so Joe offers some money saving tips, too. “My suggestion is to buy some pre-made meals at your local grocery store or go to your local farmers market and buy direct where prices are not taxed.  I would also look online at grocers who have online coupons that you can take advantage of,” he said. Saving an additional five or 10 bucks can stretch those dollars so you can buy more food or higher quality food.

Carbohydrates are typically the cheapest food source, while meat and dairy are often priced highest. Inexpensive carbohydrates that Joe suggests include rice, beans, oats, dried fruit, and nuts. Some great options for protein include beef or turkey jerky and eggs. Buying eggs in bulk can cost as little as 50 cents per dozen and can stretch your budget really well while getting a “perfect” protein that contains all of the essential amino acids. Buying pre-cooked rotisserie chicken at your local grocery store after hours saves money too, because the prices are marked down after prime meal times. You can often get a whole cooked chicken for less than five dollars. Shred it warm and store it in the fridge in baggies to take as a snack or to add to salads, meals, or sandwiches.

By Alissa Carpio