Unlock the potential of food to fuel

March is Nutrition Month and one of the topics is unlocking the potential of food to fuel. Canadians can stay energized by planning nutrition snacks into their day. Almost half of all Canadians say that eating a balanced diet is challenging because they are so busy. This means they often skip meals and eat a lot of snacks to stay fuelled in a busy day. As a dietitian working with young athletes I know that busy schedules is a reality for many of them with their training sessions, school, after school practices and competitions throughout the week. Snacking can be part of a healthy diet and is a great way to get all the nutrients the body needs each day. Snacks are foods or drinks that are consumed between meals. When athletes are on the run during a busy day, snacks are mini-meals that offer some nutritional value and an energy boost to support their activity.

The key to healthy snacking is to choose nutritious foods and match portion sizes to hunger and energy needs. Now it is important to distinguish snacks from treats. Treats such as cookies, chocolate and chips are not as nourishing as snacks. A healthy snack should provide some carbohydrates, protein and fiber to help athletes get all the nutrients their body needs each day. Helpful snacking tips for athletes include:

Plan ahead. Athletes can take some time every week to prepare and plan snacks that can be packed for on the go. Keep a variety of healthy ready to eat snacks on hand such as cut up vegetables, nuts and cubed cheese. Pre-portion trail mix, yogurt and cut up fruit so they are ready to grab and go. Being prepared with healthy snacks helps athletes avoid less healthy treats.

Fuel up with carbohydrate rich foods. The body needs carbohydrates to fuel itself during activity. With athletes busy schedules it is important they choose carbohydrate rich foods often. Foods that contain carbohydrates include vegetables and fruit, whole grain breads and pasta, brown rice, oatmeal, whole grain crackers, milk and yogurt and legumes such as split peas, beans and lentils.

Include some protein. Protein is an essential nutrient that helps to build and repair body tissue including muscles. Athletes can easily eat enough protein in their diet by choosing protein rich foods as part of their healthy snacking habits. Protein rich foods include milk, yogurt and cheese, lean meats, fish, eggs, nuts, seeds, peanut butter, beans, lentils and tofu.

Snack on vegetables! About half of all Canadians don’t eat enough vegetables and fruit. Brightly colored vegetables and fruit are full of fiber, vitamins and antioxidants which are important in helping protect the body’s tissues against the stresses of hard exercise. Snacking on vegetables and fruit between meals is a great way to add extra servings to an athlete’s diet.

Keep a list of healthy snack ideas on the fridge. Sometimes it is hard to think about what to pack for snacks. Having a list of snack ideas to choose from can help with grocery shopping, planning and preparing nutritious snacks to go. Here are some great ideas!

  • Carrots and peppers with hummus
  • Almond butter on banana slices
  • Greek yogurt topped with berries
  • Whole grain toast with peanut butter
  • Cheddar cheese and apple slices
  • Small handful of trail mix made with nuts, seeds and raisins
  • Whole grain cereal with milk
  • Sliced vegetables with yogurt dip
  • Tuna on crackers
  • Whole grain toast with avocado and sesame seeds or hemp hearts.

Stay energized by planning nutritious snacks into your day!

Kimberlee Brooks, RD, MSc, is a sport dietitian with the Alberta Sport Development Centre and can be reached at asdc@mhc.ab.ca

Nutrition for Cold Weather Sports

As a dietitian with Alberta Sport Development Center, I get to work with a variety of young athletes. A special small component of these athletes are the ones that train and compete in cold weather sports such as alpine and freestyle skiing or snowboarding. Many of our athletes also continue to train outside such as running and cycling even in the snow and cold. There are unique food and fluid challenges athletes face when they train and compete in the sub zero temperatures outside. These challenges include

  • An increase risk of hypothermia with the cold temperatures. Athletes may feel a reduced desire to eat and drink.
  • As an athlete sweats and then cools down after waiting for the next event or training run they can start shivering. Shivering uses up a lot of energy and can quickly tire an athlete, affecting their performance.
  • Access to food and fluids may not be easily available for cold weather athletes as they are often outside in the country or on a ski hill. They may also find it difficult to eat and drink, by having to undress or take off gloves. I also find that it can be hard to convince athletes to take a break to eat and drink because in Southern Alberta we don’t always have a lot of snow so athletes want to take advantage of all the time they can get on the hill!

So when it comes supporting winter sport athletes to drink and eat enough to support their activity we have to come up with some different strategies. It is really important for athletes to focus on drinking adequate fluids prior to their training and competition so that they start off well hydrated. Two to three hours before hitting the slope they should aim to have two to three cups of fluid. When they are at the ski hill they can carry a water bottle in a backpack which can be left at the top or the bottom of the hill so they can have a drink before or after a run. I have learned that while that seems like a very practical strategy, that in reality sometimes their water freezes when they leave it in their backpack. So other strategies that can help prevent their fluids from freezing include:

  • wrapping their water bottle up in extra clothing they carry in their backpack
  • keeping their bottle of the ground and snow
  • using an insulated container to keep water cool but not frozen
  • packing warm beverages or soups in insulated containers to help take away the chill of training outside as well as hydrate.

Cold weather can suppress an athlete’s appetite so they don’t feel like eating. Packing small carbohydrate based snacks that are easy to eat with gloves are key. Foods that can be stuffed into jacket pockets include dried fruit, trail mix and granola bars. Snacks that can be packed in a backpack include peanut butter and jam sandwiches, wraps with lean meat, crackers and cheese, chocolate milk (hot or cold) or a juice box. Yogurt tubes are also convenient because even if they freeze they still taste great and are easy to eat!

With a little planning athletes who train and compete in cold weather sports can ensure they are meeting their food and fluid needs to perform at their best.

Kimberlee Brooks, RD, MSc, is a sport dietitian with the Alberta Sport Development Centre and can be reached at asdc@mhc.ab.ca

Cooking Skills for the Busy Athlete

At Alberta Sport Development Center (ASDC), we help emerging athletes reach the next level of competition. Nutrition is a key element as part of an athletes training and competition plan. My role as the ASDC Dietitian is to support athletes to meet their nutrition goals. This includes educating our young athletes, parents, and coaches about sports nutrition and how nutrition can improve their athletic performance. But it also includes developing food skills such as menu planning, reading food labels, grocery shopping and learning how to cook. These practical skills are important for young athletes to support their training but also a life skill for as they get older.

Young athletes often struggle with good nutrition practices as they face many challenges with the type of schedules they maintain. Our athletes often have busy training schedules and will be up early before school to train or will train after school and into the evening. This can make it difficult to eat regular meals at home and leaves little time for meal preparation for in between school and events. Athletes often travel away from home for competitions and may have reduced access to good food choices on the road or at the venues where they compete. So part of our goal at ASDC is to work with athletes to provide practical strategies and develop food skills to help them build on good nutrition practices that they can take with them into their adult years.

The cooking sessions I do with the athletes in our athlete enhancement program is always a favorite. We focus on some basic meal planning and the athletes learn how to make some quick snacks and meals that they can eat at home or on the go. They always enjoy making snacks such as cereal trail mix, yogurt parfaits, and smoothies. They also learn that they can make their own quick meals such as pasta salads and skillets that can be packed up to eat on the go or to serve to their parents as a thank you for driving them around everywhere! Not everything turns out perfect but learning from their mistakes is part of skill development (like reading the recipe closely when it says one quarter of a teaspoon of chili peppers and not one quarter cup)! Cooking skills such as reading a recipe, washing dishes, cutting and sautéing vegetables, measuring liquids and dry ingredients and browning meats are just a few of the skills we focus on.

We will also tour a grocery store to practice other food skills such as how to read food labels, grocery shop and budget for meals. Through hands on discussion and some competitive activities (they are athletes after all) athletes build their confidence and knowledge about making informed healthy food choices. It is a lot of fun and they learn practical food skills that they will rely on as they get older as well. To learn more about our Athlete Enhancement Program with ASDC check out our website at www.mhc.ab.ca/Services/HealthandWellness/ASDC

Kimberlee Brooks, RD, MSc, is a sport dietitian with the Alberta Sport Development Centre and can be reached at asdc@m hc.ab.ca