Back to School Nutrition: Mpowher Edition
Fall is just around the corner. School has begun or is about to and classes will soon be in full swing. Summer was a great time to experiment new nutrition practices. For some, this may have been a time you tried to increase your hydration, began experimenting with pre- or post- workout nutrition (hopefully both!), and worked on adjusting your plates to your level of physical activity.
Depending on your sport, you may not be in the thick of training just yet, but that does not mean that nutrition should be left behind. Nutrition will help make a good student-athlete a great one and by creating a game plan once school begins to meet your daily fueling needs, you will be able to sustain enough energy around practices, performances and schoolwork. Consistency, planning and preparation are three key tools to help set an athlete up for success during the school year. Check out some of our favorite tips below!
Back to back classes can interrupt consistent eating patterns. There are times when early morning practices or classes may result in athletes skipping meals. The most skipped meal of the day is breakfast. The most common reason I hear for this is either an athlete was not hungry or there was not enough time. For those athletes who also have afternoon school practices, skipping breakfast and other snacking or meal opportunities puts them at risk of fatigue due to inadequate nutrition.
According to studies, skipping breakfast can decrease focus and the ability to retain information from classes and plays during practice. Research also suggests that those who eat breakfast perform better on exams and assignments. I love comparing eating breakfast to recharging your cell phone battery. I tell my athletes that if they don’t recharge their batteries, they risk not being able to use their phones. The same applies to your energy stores. If you do not break the fast in the morning, how do you expect to perform your best when you have no more immediate and efficient fuel left to use?
Eating breakfast isn’t just great for the brain, but it also helps athletes meet their body composition goals. If you want to build more strength in the gym, you need to be eating consistently. Skipping breakfast and working out on a 12-15 hour fast as a competitive student athlete will decrease your ability to use your carbohydrate stores as efficiently, will increase muscle breakdown in addition to making you feel sluggish for most of the day.
As mentioned in previous blog posts, the goal is consistency which means eating often and not going longer than 4 hours without a meal or snack in order to sustain a steady supply of energy.
Ways to increase meal consistency around classes:
Start meal prepping:
An athlete does not have to go from 0 to 100 with this. Any effort matters. I encourage athletes to begin by preparing three days worth of food instead of five and then choose another day of the week for another set of meals. If they want to prep for more, then great! I find that setting smaller goals is a great way to start!
If you are an athlete who is living in the dorms, start preparing three days worth of snacks and take advantage of the dining halls to eat your meals
If you are a high school athlete and living at home, get the family involved with this. It will also help encourage healthier eating habits while at home!
There is no perfect way to meal prep. Start by:
Investing in containers. Choose BPA proof sealed containers and those that are refrigerator and microwave friendly. Containers come in all sizes that can be used for different purposes. For example, jars can be used when making overnight oats! Having proper storage helps make the heating, storage and transportation easy!
Form a team, plan your meals and pick a day! I find most athletes like to use their off days as a meal prepping day. Start off by making a list of your favorite lean proteins/plant-based proteins, carbohydrates (from whole-grains to starches), fruits and veggies.
Get comfortable with grocery shopping:
Explore the grocery store. Start by shopping the perimeter for fresh foods like dairy, fruits, veggies, and animal protein sources
Look for packaged products that don’t contain a long list of ingredients
Don’t be afraid to purchase frozen fruits or veggies as these provide just the same nutrients as those that are fresh
Look for snacks that are easy to eat while you’re on the go!
Purchase and Prepare foods above in bulk. Once these foods are purchased, prep them in bulk to last at least 3-4 days. After preparation, portion these foods out based on your training plate. Please refer to our “Take Control of Your Everyday Nutrition Practices by Adding these 3 Key Nutrients.” Once portioned, they can be stored in the fridge, freezer or pantry (depending on if its perishable or not) and then are ready for use.
Look for opportunities to add more and fill in the gaps:
Pack in nutrient dense foods! Athletes need their carbs. They can find ways to pack in meals and snacks that provide more nutrients in just one sitting. Examples of this include adding oatmeal to morning breakfast, making all sandwiches with bagels and English muffins rather than slices of toast, choosing bars made up of oats, adding granola to your bowl of cereal and fruit, and pairing your meals with potatoes, whole-grain pasta and rice.
Preparation is key. Keeping snacks such as bars, dried fruit, trail mix, nut butter sandwiches and fresh fruit in your locker, car and work or school bags ensures that you are always prepared. Even if you can’t eat a big breakfast, I always recommend snacking on something rather than nothing, especially for early morning classes or practices.
Suggested snacks for classes and around practice:
Make Your own trail mix: ¼ cup nuts, 1 cup whole-wheat cereal or granola, ¼ cup dried fruit (cherries, raisins, apricots)
String cheese or cheddar cheese cubes and pair with 1 cup of grapes or a piece of whole fruit and a handful of almonds or cashews
Greek yogurt (5 ounces), ½ cup of frozen blueberries or strawberries, with a handful of granola
Peanut, almond, or sunflower seed butter spread or deli slices on a small 100% whole-wheat pita or 100% whole-wheat bagel and pair with a piece of fruit or juice
Carrot sticks and sliced celery or pita chips with hummus
Bars (I like to recommend looking for brands with limited ingredients on the nutrition label and for those with low amounts of added sugars)
Pairing a bar with milk is great to eat before leaving the house for campus or practice. Choose brands that are mostly made up of “whole” ingredients (for example: dates, nuts, nut butters, chia, seeds, unsweetened fruits, cinnamon). Protein bars (with greater than 14 gm of protein) are best consumed as recovery after a workout, where as a bar intended for fuel will be higher in carbohydrates and less protein and best for before or during a workout.
Common Foods for Meal Preparation:
Lean protein sources: Pieces of lean chicken, ground turkey, fish filets or soy protein sources
Healthy fats: Nut butters, avocado and nuts
Veggies: Fresh or frozen broccoli, salad mixes, cauliflower, spinach, asparagus, mushrooms or carrots
Fruits: Berries, apples, oranges, bananas, grapes and dried fruit
Carbohydrates: Quinoa, oats, whole-wheat tortillas, pastas, brown rice (there are some brands that can be prepared in the microwave! These are time savers and just as healthy!), sweet potatoes, lentils and beans
Spices! Add spices like dill, turmeric, basil and sage to your meals!
Mix and match the above while making it a goal to eat at least 3 meals and 3 snacks per day!
Putting it all Together:
Consistency with meals and snacks helps to boost brain power, memory and energy for back to school and training success! The recommendations above are tools to help with meal planning and preparation to help simplify meeting the demands of your sport and a full day’s worth of classes!
AUTHOR: YASI ANSARI
Yasi is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) and Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics (CSSD). She specializes in sports nutrition and women's health. She is based in California and currently consults one-on-one with female athletes, coaches and sports teams at local universities and high schools. Growing up in the performing arts, Yasi understands the importance nutrition plays in the day-to-day of an athlete.
Her goal is to empower female athletes through nutrition education and to help them improve health and performance by adopting sustainable and sound nutrition practices that will help meet high training demands and recovery needs. Yasi Ansari earned her undergraduate degree in Mass Communication Studies from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), and a Master of Science Degree in Family and Consumer Sciences with a distinction in Nutrition and Dietetics from the California State University, Northridge.