FOOD SHOPPING FOR ATHLETES
By Helen Duong, Cricket Victoria
Food shopping and product selection are the practical applications of performance nutrition theory, so it’s important that athletes know how to make supermarket trips that are as time efficient and targeted as possible.
SHOP HEALTHILY, SHOP FAST
Only 10% of Australians consume the recommended two serves of fruit and five serves of vegetables daily (2011-2012 National Health survey), so I find myself coaching our athletes on how to identify nutrient-rich whole and unprocessed foods. Optimising the real-food foundation is a far more valuable and cost-effective way for athletes to achieve their goals than investing in supplements and multivitamins. High achieving athletes need to be healthy first and foremost.
As part of this process, stick to the perimeter of a supermarket where you’ll find all of your core food groups. Only venture into the isles if you know exactly what you are looking for (e.g. wholemeal packet pasta, rice, tinned fruit in natural juice, tinned low-salt baked beans, etc.). You will be in and out of the supermarket in no time!
Once you look at the bigger picture, you’ll see that eating for health and sport will contain very few packaged foods. The only food groups where you’ll need to practice label reading is for the grains and dairy. You may also want to read more about what all the numbers on a food label mean.
WHAT SHOULD GO INTO AN ATHLETE’S SHOPPING TROLLEY?
Optimal performance nutrition must be built on a solid whole-food foundation. This translates to a shopping list that is built on the nutrient-rich five core food groups of the Australian Dietary Guidelines: grains, vegetables, fruit, dairy and lean proteins.
These guidelines are a sound and scientifically-based set of recommendations that prioritise the health and wellbeing of Australians. These were recently updated and released to reflect current knowledge in nutrition science for chronic disease prevention. At Cricket Victoria, each athlete achieves this sound nutrition framework before any supplementation program or product is used around their individual training programs.
So what should an athlete look for in each food group to ensure optimal nutrition for training and body composition goals? Here are some rules of thumb.
The ‘grainier’ or more whole grain a grain product is, the more nutrition it will contain (higher protein, higher dietary fibre). The higher fibre content of minimally processed grains also creates a steadier release of healthy carbohydrate (glucose) into the bloodstream to fuel exercise and recovery. Experiment with different types of grains – wheat is most common, but also try oats, rice, rye, barley, millet, quinoa, freekeh and corn.
When looking at packet cereals, mueslis and breads, look for about 7.5g fibre per 100g. Packaged muesli bars are also great compact sources of energy. In these, look for:
- 400-800kj (~500kj for a low training day, 800kj for a higher training day)
- 2g saturated fat per serve
- 3g fibre/serve minimum – if you see a bar that contains 5g/serve or more, you’ve found a gem!
Look for deep, dark green, orange and yellow vegetable and salad varieties. Each different colour represents a different type and set of immune-boosting, metabolism-supportive vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients (healthy substances naturally found in plants).
Frozen is perfectly OK and nutritious, plus it’s super-convenient for busy families, athletes and single cooks. Steam-bag vegetables are also an ingenious solution for fuss-free cooking.
Try to have at least three varieties of fruit in your shopping basket. Look for what’s in season – it will always be cheaper and tastier! Tinned fruit in natural juice is also a convenient way to get your fruit, while snap packs in insulated bags help your fruit survive the ‘travel trauma’ of sport bags.
Select milk and yogurt products that are higher in protein and calcium – these will also happen to be your low-fat varieties.
Both male and female cricketers – particularly young fast bowlers – are repeatedly putting their skeletons under stress. This stimulation/stress placed on the bone warrants eating 3-4 serves of dairy/day to meet the demands of bone repair and building. I’ve observed that the varieties of yogurt you find in supermarkets can range anywhere between 120-350mg of calcium per serve, so buy those that are closer to the 300mg mark.
Do not be scared off yogurt by the sugar shown in the nutritional panel on the label. “Sugar” is merely a collective term for all of the types of sugars found in the product – both natural and added. The majority of the sugar in yogurt will be the healthy, natural sugar in milk called lactose. If the yogurt contains fruit, it will also have healthy fructose, and yes, there will often be a small amount of added sugar in the form of sucrose to make it enjoyable. No matter what type of sugar you eat, at the end of digestion each of these varieties will always break down to glucose and be transported to your vital organs (e.g. the brain and muscles) to sustain energy for life. Yogurt is full of great nutrition – whey and casein protein for muscle repair and development, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus for bone health, plus probiotics for a healthy gut and immune system. All these things far outweigh a teaspoon or two of sugar. Furthermore, yogurts are generally Low GI (Glycemic Index), which makes them a steady and satisfying source of energy. A good energy level for a serve of yogurt is about 600kj-800kj per serve.
LEAN MEATS AND OTHER PROTEIN
Look for lean cuts of meat with minimal visible fat. Also have a few cans of tuna and salmon as back-up source of protein and anti-inflammatory omega-3 healthy oils (these are good for recovering muscles and joint conditions).
Don’t underestimate the power of canned beans! These are a compact, convenient and nutritious source of essential and non-essential amino acids that are important for muscle recovery and building. Stock up on low-salt baked beans, cannellini beans, broad beans, four bean mix, etc. They’re all perfect to mix into a Bolognese or tomato-based sauces to boost protein content.
Helen is the Sports Performance Dietitian at Cricket Victoria where she oversees nutrition programs for the Bushrangers, Spirit and Academy. She conducts supermarket tours for Cricket Victoria teams and other athletes.