Athletic Nutrition: Clark Experts Weigh-In

(Photo Credit: Ryan Robbins/The Independent)

The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and other leading publications have reported on specific approaches to athlete diets. Recently, the focal point has been on the issues of gluten versus no gluten and additional vitamin D as part of an athlete’s nutritional regimen.

But a handful of Clark health professionals say that good nutrition is a lifestyle, not a quick fix.

“Anything with the word ‘diet’ in it is no good,” said Robert Williams, Clark’s cross-country and track coach. “Diet means temporary.”

“[It’s important to] change the way you eat slowly and gradually throughout life,” Williams said. Health and Physical Education instructor Dave Caldwell is on the same page.

It’s best to keep an overall consistent diet and “make small incremental changes,” Caldwell said. “When you start taking out unhealthy things, you’re hungry, so you have to find healthier foods to substitute that with.”

For example, Caldwell said to substitute energy drinks with more sleep, preferably eight hours.

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“Sleep is probably one of the best nutrients you can have,” Caldwell said.

Food & Your Health instructor Kristen Myklebust said she suggests the World’s Healthiest Foods website to her students. The website highlights nutrient-dense foods.

“Nutrient density is a ratio of nutrients to calories,” Myklebust said. “Ideally, you’re getting a lot of nutrients to not a lot of calories.”

But the website doesn’t stop there. It doesn’t list just the most nutrient-dense foods, but they must be familiar, readily available, affordable and whole foods that taste good too, Myklebust said.

To identify whole foods, Myklebust quoted one of her Food & Your Health textbooks saying “Can you imagine your food growing in its natural state? Will your food rot? Can a 3rd grader pronounce all the ingredients?” If the answer is yes, chances are it’s a whole food.

The new USDA Food Guide is a diagram of a plate, which shows that half your plate should be fruits and vegetables, and half should be whole grains and lean sources of protein.

Since athletes work out and do strength and endurance training which breaks down muscle tissue, it’s important for them to be mindful of the quality of their protein, Myklebust said.

According to Myklebust, since athletes are consuming more calories than normal, they’re likely getting enough protein. But sometimes, just getting enough calories can be a struggle.

“Protein is very important, especially for women … because their [iron] levels can get really low easily,” Williams said.

Nevertheless, for men and women athletes alike, every calorie counts.

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To Jeremiah Arn, a Clark track & field decathlete, food and water intake is essential for success.

“For a decathlon in particular, it’s super important to stay on top of it,” Arn said. “When I don’t drink enough water, my body will just shut down.”

But healthy food intake continues much further than just on to the next race.

“If you don’t have a good diet, your body won’t heal right,” Arn said. “So with the decathlon, [diet is] important to keep from getting injuries.”

Kristin Woitte, Clark’s licensed athletic trainer, agrees with Arn. Woitte said good nutrition allows your body to “recover on a regular basis,” and gives you the stamina to play your sport without being fatigued or having “low energy, because that’s when injuries happen.”

Woitte promotes student athletes gaining the tools they need to make healthy choices on their own.

“If it were my decision, I’d probably have all my athletes take Food & Your Health,” Woitte said.

In the end, it’s about consistency. “I think the best diet is no diet at all,” Woitte said. “I think the best diet is good habits.”

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