Wednesday, March 14, 2012

"MyPlate" for Athletes

March is National Nutrition Month, and this year's theme is "Shape Up Your Plate" in honor of the new MyPlate graphic released by the USDA as a replacement for the good old Food Guide Pyramid. As a dietitian, this was a welcome change because - lets be honest - how many average consumers actually knew how to interpret the Food Guide Pyramid anyhow? As a sports dietitian, I had been using the plate method for quite some time already because of the simplicity and ease of teaching. However, athletes have very specific needs, so does MyPlate as it is really cater to the needs of athletes? Should the distribution of food groups ever change to better fuel the performing athlete? First, lets break down MyPlate in the context of the sports nutrition world:
MyPlate displays 5 different foods groups - sound familiar? - that are distributed across a plate and either a cup or side dish.

First, why is it important for an athlete to get each of these food groups at every meal?

Grains- This group includes all foods made from wheat, rice, oats, cornmeal, barley, and other whole grains (i.e. pasta, bread, cereal, crackers, tortillas, etc.). Athletes should aim for at least half of their grains to be whole grain (i.e. 100% whole wheat or 100% whole grain versions of the first list). Grains provide mainly carbohydrate, which is the body's main source of fuel during exercise, particularly as intensity increases.  Skimping on carbs leads to a break-down of muscle for energy (note: that's a bad thing).

Protein- This includes lean meat, poultry, fish, and eggs as well as nuts and nut butters, beans, legumes, tofu and other soy foods. Among MANY functions, protein is imperative for muscle re-synthesis and re-building (but must be combined with carb for best results).

Fruits- This group includes all fresh, frozen, canned, and dried fruit as well as ONLY 100% fruit juice. Fruits provide that all-important carb, but also vitamins and minerals essential for proper recovery of trained muscles and prevention of illness.

Vegetables- Also includes all fresh, frozen, canned, and dried vegetables as well as vegetable juices. Vegetables provide only a small amount of carb, but - like fruit - are a great source of fiber as well as vitamins and minerals. Fiber provides "staying power", leading to sustained energy during activity.

Dairy- Includes all fluid milk products as well as foods made from milk such as yogurt, cheese, and cottage cheese. Choosing low-fat dairy products is a great way to take on more protein and carb, as well bone-strengthening calcium and Vitamin D - two components important for protection from injury.

While the MyPlate graphic is a great visual to use on a daily basis to meet your macro- and micro-nutrient needs, when might an athlete need to modify this basic plate?
  • Endurance athletes prepping for a big race: Keep all food groups, but increase grains and fruit in the days leading up to competition. One day before, omit fresh fruit (canned, frozen, dried okay) and high-fiber grains (yep - choose white bread) from your diet to assure you fully digest all energy by race day.
  • Anaerobic athletes after a lift-heavy workout: Keep all food groups, but slightly increase protein at the next meal following your workout. Don't go overboard here, as most of us get too much protein and the key is really the combination of carb and protein. Extra protein doesn't automatically equal more muscle.
  • Athletes recovering from injury: Keep all food groups, but slightly increase protein and slightly decrease grains. You need more protein to repair what has been injured and likely you won't be working out how you were, so you'll need less energy from grains.
  • Athletes fighting illness: Keep all food groups, but slightly increase fruits and vegetables. That is where you'll get those antioxidants, which are the power-house for fighting illness in the body.
Remember: What YOU need for YOUR level of activity in YOUR position for YOUR sport is completely individual. For the best performance results, meet with a RD who is Board Certified as Specialist in Sports Dietetics. Can't come to me in the Chicago-area? Find a CSSD RD here.

Oh and in case you didn't hear, today is the 5th Annual National Registered Dietitian Day! Have you hugged an RD today?

Be Extraordinary,


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