Beyond The Score: Good Nutrition Will Help You Feel Stronger and Perform Better

Editor’s Note: This is the first in a two-part series on nutrition.

By Lisa Thomas

We’ve all experienced a time when fatigue sets in when we are playing or our recovery after a match takes much longer than usual.  Much of this can be put down to what we eat and drink.

What we put into our bodies plays a big part in the performance we will get out of them.  We all know that we can feel either strong or fatigued depending on what we eat before, during and after a match. Food is what fuels our bodies, allowing us to physically push ourselves and to reach our potential.

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As athletes it is probably best to think about our general diet to improve overall wellbeing and performance rather than considering it only in and around game time.  Easier said than done with new diets on the market regularly and the latest research seemingly contradicting last week’s nutritional studies.

The solution in large part is knowing what works best for you, being mindful about what you choose and making an attempt to keep away from processed foods.

One easy first step is to understand what foods give us nutritional value and start to include them in our diets. If you include foods that are good for you and know when they are best to eat then you may find yourself less hungry, having more energy and recovering better.

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Importantly, there are a lot of alternatives to using supplements, gels and bars.  Many of the packaged snacks and supplements have value in the moment but the research suggests that there is little value in the long run.  Some of them, not all but some, have too much sugar, salt and at times fats.  With a little forethought it is easy to eat whole foods as a part of your diet to get better performance so we don’t have a need to reach for a gel or bar.  That being said some of the bars and gels are a good alternative in a pinch but relying on them each time you work out is probably not the best long term strategy.

The same can be said for processed foods with artificial ingredients.  We will probably eat processed foods from time to time but the suggestion is to limit them in our diets if we want to maximize our performance.  Processed foods are harder for us to breakdown.  The body wastes energy breaking down the chemicals.

What should we be reaching for?  Find the things that have nutritional value and can help your overall well-being.

Look for foods like quinoa, blueberries, salmon, beans, pasta, bananas, nuts and nut butter and chocolate milk.  Sounds pretty good and easy to do.  This week I will take a look at a couple and next week follow up with some more info on these good choices for your everyday eating plan.

Quinoa:

Loaded with protein, fiber and minerals and luckily for many of us it is gluten free which means it is easy to digest. Quinoa is also loaded with essential amino acids that our bodies don’t make.  One essential amino acid that is valuable for athletes is lysine.  When working on strength, lysine can help to repair and grow muscle tissue faster.  Another quinoa value is iron.  Iron helps the body to produce energy and helps the blood deliver oxygen to muscles.  For long matches the iron in quinoa can help prevent fatigue which is great when you are battling it out to finish off an opponent.  It is considered by many as one of the most complete foods in nature.

Think about trying quinoa at breakfast, similar to oatmeal and add a little maple syrup or honey and nuts.  It makes a delicious salad for lunch with nuts, avocado and feta cheese and you can use it as a side or vegetable stuffing for dinner.

Blueberries:

Blueberries have been proven to have a high concentration of antioxidants which can protect muscles, joints and tissue from the wear and tear that comes from the constant pounding on hard courts. There are several good studies that also show blueberries playing a significant role in recovery.  It does not stop there, they may improve learning capacity, motor skills and memory.  All good things to have in action while being coached and playing.

Blueberries contain vitamin C to support your immune system keeping you healthy and are a source of energy-enhancing carbohydrates and fiber that will help to sustain you through heavy workouts and tough matches.  Sounds like they are a must in our diets.

Blueberries are easy and delicious to eat on their own and also make a good primary ingredient in smoothies and in a breakfast bowl, perhaps mixed with oatmeal or quinoa.   They can be mixed into salads and are great with other berries for an easy and healthy dessert.

I am a firm believer in doing what is right for my well-being and for me that means mindful, healthy eating.  I am not and never advocate being rigid or obsessive about eating.  I do find though that eating well and making good choices by not including too many processed foods and artificial ingredients in my diet has proven to be beneficial to my recovery, my energy and my focus.  When I am focused and fit my game improves significantly and my recovery time is short and sweet.

About the author: Lisa Thomas is a 25-year communications consultant working globally with multi national high-tech and biotech companies.  She is an avid tennis league player and mother of two high school varsity athletes.  Lisa graduated from Griffith University in Australia and is now a 20-year resident of La Jolla, California.

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