MyPlate for Athletes

MyPlate for Athletes

by Katie Davis MS, RD, CSSD, LDN

www.RDKate.com

As we all know, 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. 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? This post is for all you RDs who work with athletes occasionally, but don’t seem them quite often enough to consider yourself an “expert”.

First, lets break down MyPlate in the context of the sports nutrition world:

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

Grains–  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.

Protein– Among MANY functions, protein is imperative for muscle re-synthesis and re-building for athletes (but must be combined with carb for best
results).

Fruits– Fruits provide that all-important carb, but also vitamins and minerals essential for proper recovery of trained muscles and prevention of illness.

Vegetables– 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– Choosing low-fat dairy products is a great way for athletes 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: Instruct them to 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 their diet to assure they 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 their workout. Don’t go overboard here; we know most of us get too much protein and the key is really the combination of carb and protein. Emphasize that extra protein doesn’t automatically equal more muscle.
  • -Athletes recovering from injury: Keep all food groups, but slightly increase protein and slightly decrease grains. They need more protein to repair what has been injured and likely they won’t be working out how they were, so they will need less energy from grains.
  • -Athletes fighting illness: Keep all food groups, but slightly increase fruits and vegetables. That is where they will get those antioxidants, which are the power-house for fighting illness in the body.

Remember: What each athletes need for his/her level of activity in his position for his sport is completely individual. For the best performance results, athletes should meet with a RD who is Board Certified as Specialist in Sports Dietetics. You can help them find a CSSD RD here.

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