Fueling and Lifestyle Strategies for Summer Break
Did you know that the choices you make during the summer months can affect meeting optimal training goals once season begins? For example, late night partying during the summer can lead to sleep deprivation causing lowered performance such as decreased accuracy, balance and endurance. Not getting enough sleep or even drinking more (alcohol) during the summer, can also affect mental alertness, recovery and meeting body composition goals for performance.
Summer is the perfect time to rest and recover from a hard year of training while spending quality time with family and friends! Most high-school and collegiate athletes shift from having a crazy-packed schedule including classes, meetings and practice, to getting more time off. I always recommend that female athletes take advantage of the summer break to check in with their bodies and be mindful of what they may need before heading back into their sports season. For some, this may be checking in with their strength coaches to adjust training, for others it may be to experiment ways to boost performance through new nutrition practices or both!
In addition to all the great things summer brings, there are frequent summer outings (such as barbecues, house parties and eating out) that can keep athletes from meeting some of their nutrition and training goals. Look at some of our favorite summer tips to help boost performance, and keep you on track while still being able to enjoy the season of beach, sun and fun!
Barbecues (BBQ) are a summer staple. It is always fun to grill food, play sports, listen to music and enjoy the company. A few common foods that are often found at summer cookouts include potato chips, high-fat and mysterious dips, grilled meats, grilled veggies, mayo-rich side pasta salads, and alcohol.
Here at Mpowher, we always recommend eating your favorite foods in moderation, but if you are going out to barbecues frequently, try swapping one of the above foods for a healthy alternative below:
Chips and Dips:
For healthier and high-fiber crunch look for bell peppers and carrots and choose a dip with a Greek yogurt base or a simple hummus! If you still want to consume chips, I’d recommend pairing it with fresh veggies. That way you can consume both, but are also adding more color and nutrients to your snack plate.
Burgers and hot dogs are staples; however, regular versions are often higher in saturated fats that aren’t the best for recovery or performance. I recommend choosing grilled fish, grilled chicken breast and grilled turkey patty alternatives. If you are not the one in charge of the barbecue, offer to bring some of your own meats. Choose lean versions of your favorite patties or try grilling strips of fish filets and making fish tacos! Veggie alternatives would include grilling vegetables (I love making vegetable kabobs on skewers with mushrooms, zucchini and bell peppers) or grilling tofu.
Traditional barbecue sauces are packed in sugar (sometimes even artificial sugars), and preservatives. Look for sauces that contain minimal ingredients, are made up of tomato paste, vinegar, spices and are low in sugar. These recommendations apply for other sauces and dressings as well. Healthy alternatives to high-fat, high-preservative ingredient lists include “lighter” versions of your favorite dressings and sauces, or even looking for vinegar or Greek yogurt-based recipes that also have ingredients that you can recognize! The other option is to simply make your own and bring to your summer event. One of my favorite dressings for salads and veggie kabobs is mixing olive oil, garlic, lemon oil, salt and pepper.
Healthy Eating At The Beach
Going to the beach is a must during summer but there aren’t always healthy options around. Because it can get hot at the beach or a cookout, it will be important to keep food in a cooler or choose packaged items that can be consumed within 2 hours if they need refrigeration. The key to success is to plan and prepare meals and snacks ahead of time.
Some of my favorite go-to beach snacks and meals include:
Turkey or nut butter sandwiches, veggie and hummus wraps
Rice cakes with nut butter packets, rice crackers and trail mix, bars, unsweetened apple sauce, whole fruit and beef jerky
Healthy Eating While Out
Whether at a house party or restaurant, athletes can still meet goals for performance and enjoy their favorite foods. Rather than focus on what foods NOT to eat, we like to encourage athletes to focus on what they can add to help performance and boost health. For example, if going to a restaurant and want a burger and have the option of choosing between a side salad or fries, we recommend choosing the side salad. Not to say that you should never pick the fries but keep in mind that these cooking methods require deep frying in oil. Fries are rich in saturated fats (regular sweet potato fries included) that do not help boost performance or protect health. An alternative would be to consume them in moderation or make your own at home by baking sweet potatoes. If you have the option of picking between a regular or whole-wheat bun on the burger, choose whole-wheat for the additional fiber. The more fiber the healthier the digestive tract and helps to keep athletes fuller for a longer period.
Basic tips to help you stay on track with your health goals no matter where you are
Start with your veggies: When eating out, at a party, or a cookout, begin with a veggie plate or veggie kabobs before eating other snacks and then proceed to the main entrée.
Make your regular foods a “premium” one: As mentioned above there are ways to enjoy your favorite foods… by finding healthier alternatives or learning how to make them yourself with better ingredients! Make your own baked sweet potato fries instead of eating regular fries at restaurants, choosing whole-wheat buns over regular white buns or white bread. You can also make regular foods a “premium” one by looking for healthier cooking methods. If the menu states a food is fried, ask to see if there is a grilled, steamed or baked version. If there are creamy-based dressings or sauces, look for ones that are made up of vinegar or olive oil.
Hydrate! When out during the summer, it can get toasty. Per the Institute of Medicine, active individuals require upwards of 2.7 liters/day (and more) of fluids (not including hydration needs during performance).*1 Most of the beverages that are offered at summer outings include alcohol and high sugar beverages, both can cause an increased risk of dehydration if not hydrating in between with water. Effects of dehydration may include fatigue, decreased mental alertness out on the field, an inability to cool down, delayed recovery and cramping. Being out in the sun and drinking alcohol doesn’t only put you at risk of dehydration but can also hinder performance. Alcohol can prevent you from meeting body composition goals, hurts metabolism (decrease protein synthesis for muscle repair and alters metabolism for carbohydrates and fats decreasing recovery efforts and endurance performance), causes nutritional deficiencies and depresses the immune system. Limiting alcohol to 1 drink for women per day in addition to hydrating well with water will ensure athletes are staying on track with summer goals.
Meal Timing: With schedules not being as packed, it’s a good time for athletes to stay consistent with meal planning and timing. The goal for athletes is to eat every 3- 4 hours. Even if you’re not going to classes or have long practices/rehearsals, sticking to this eating schedule will maintain body composition, keep energy levels stable and prevent the body from going into muscle breakdown.
Sleep: Athletes love summer break, because it gives them extra time to “catch up on sleep”. Late night outings can keep athletes from meeting optimal sleep needs of 8-10 hours per night. *2 Consistent and adequate sleep is just as important as nutrition, hydration and training. Using this time to solidify a sleep schedule can decrease injury risk, improve cognitive function, improve reaction time, lessen perceived exertion and increase time to exhaustion during activity. *3
Focus on your performance plates: The U.S. Olympic Committee Performance plates are a great tool to use no matter where you are eating! Depending on the intensity and duration of training that day you can gear your plates to your level of activity. *4
Overall, I recommend that all athletes use this time to take control of their nutrition, hydration and sleep to get into a routine that can be incorporated into the school year and training.
*1 Dietary water and sodium requirements for active adults. Gatorade Sports Science Institute. https://www.gssiweb.org/sports-science-exchange/article/sse-92-dietary-water-and-sodium-requirements-for-active-adults#articleTopic_4. Accessed June 5, 2019.
*2 Do student athletes need extra sleep? National Sleep Foundation. https://www.sleepfoundation.org/articles/do-student-athletes-need-extra-sleep. Accessed July 5, 2019.
*3 Kroshus E, Wagner J, Wyrick D, et al. Wake up call for collegiate athlete sleep: narrative review and consensus recommendations from the NCAA Interassociation Task Force on Sleep and Wellness. Br J Sports Med. 2019;53(12):731-736
*4 Nutrition. Team USA. https://www.teamusa.org/nutrition Published 2019. Accessed May 13, 2019
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.