Nutrition 101 Series – # 7

Optimal Eating Blueprint

Here are some ideas and suggestions for young athletes to put into practice immediately. You will also find these are easy methods to stick to for a lifetime of healthy habits without much added effort. Follow this blueprint, and you will become closer to reaching your full potential on and off the field.

Why should  I eat?

Keep it simple! Eating healthy does not need to be confusing. You know what is good for you and what is not. Cut out the bad and eat the good. Follow the rules of eating and monitor your energy and mood levels.

Focus On Your Hormones—Having a prime hormonal balance will give you the energy and motivation to focus on your goals. Know that what you put into your body will have an impact on the way your body and brain responds. That can be either positive or negative.  Having and wanting to achieve your goals gives you the purpose to make good healthy food choices. Know why you are eating.

Eat For EnergyEat healthy foods that give you legitimate, sustained energy throughout the day. You should not go through energy spikes – rather just have a continuous and steady amount of energy throughout the day. You should be able to focus and concentrate throughout the day and not go through mood swings.

Build & Repair Muscle—Eat healthy foods consisting of high protein to build and repair muscle tissue. Eat a healthy protein in every meal to ensure your muscles get the amino acids they need to get bigger and stronger.

What should I eat?

Obviously you want your calories from a balanced diet of good sources of proteins, carbs, and unsaturated fats. You now know what you should eat, and what you should try to avoid. If you don’t like it, don’t eat it! I never for the life of me understood why I was forced to eat mashed potatoes when I was a kid when it would make me gag. If you do not like the taste of something, then eat something else. Eat the foods that taste good to you, so you’re motivated to eat.

healthy-eating-plate-700

I do recommend a protein shake as a supplement, primarily for convenience. I also believe they can aid in the digestive system taking a break from digesting regular food. It is also a good way to get higher amounts of certain vitamins and minerals. I will touch on this throughout the blueprint, with more specific supplement information in the Supplement’s article.

How much should I eat?

Do not worry about counting calories or measuring your food. I know there are recommendations to how much you should eat in terms of calories and in grams of protein, carbs, and fat. Do not worry about that. It is a waste of valuable time and will literally end up confusing the heck out of you and is not worth the effort.  Everybody has different goals, and we all respond differently to different methods and volumes. So how does any standard guideline make any sense? It doesn’t. Follow my guideline in how much you should eat:

Eat as much as you need! Your hormones are designed to communicate to you how much you should eat. That is why it is so important to eat natural and whole foods, to ensure we have an optimal hormonal system. Our body will tell us how much food we should eat, so listen to it when it says you’ve had enough. Again, ask yourself why you are eating or continuing to eat. Follow the rule above of how you should eat, and you will find that it is not necessary or productive to over-eat. Over-eating can lead to spikes or crashes to your energy level, becoming lethargic and sleepy, and an inability to focus. Follow the next rule, and you will find yourself in no need to over-eat.

How often should I eat?

This is a situation where I somewhat contradict myself. Also, I would give different advice for an adult as opposed to a young athlete. So this is geared towards our young athletes. I say I contradict myself because on one hand I say you should listen to your body in regards to eating when it tells you, and on the other hand I’m going to recommend you eat every 3 hours.

Structure is important. It is important to do things consistent day in and day out. It’s called a habit. We want to inhibit good habits, and that is instilled with structure, or repetitive behavior. You spend 5 days a week at school. Your schedule rarely changes, as it is structured. You want to schedule your dietary needs around the same structure.

eating clockEat on a schedule. Besides helping you prevent falling victim to either overeating or under-snacking, eating on the clock is a physically wise option and removes much of the guesswork. You should be eating a meal or snack every 2-3 hours, all day long.

By eating good foods every 2-3 hours you will keep your blood sugar levels stable which will keep the hormones on cue. When your blood sugar is stable, you burn fat, feel good, think clearly, have energy and maintain better control over your hunger. By eating consistently throughout the day we spread out the nutrients we need to maintain our blood sugar level and avoid overloading the body with glucose in a single meal. Something quick and simple is key to getting in these much needed calories when you only have minutes between periods or need some immediate fuel for your after school workout or practice.

A simple example would be:

7 a.m. – Eat breakfast
10 a.m. – Eat a mini-meal or snack
12 p.m. – Eat lunch
3 p.m. – Eat a mini-meal or snack—This is the last meal before practice or game
6 p.m. – Post workout/practice/game recovery meal
7 p.m. – Dinner
10 p.m. – Bedtime snack

This is just a simple example of eating every 2 to 3 hours. Keep in mind, you need to schedule it around your schedule which coincides with your hunger and energy levels. You will notice that this example is 7 meals (mini-meals). You’re probably wondering how you can possibly eat 7 times in a day. These are not 1,000 calorie binge meals. These are practical high-octane meals that will keep your brain functioning and your muscles growing. Again, ask yourself why you are eating.

What if I’m not hungry? When you eat a healthy balanced diet, your body will utilize all the nutrients from the good food. Your system will work hard to break it down and get the most from those nutrients. A small snack in between meals is necessary to replenish your body with the nutrients and hold you over until the next meal. If you skip this mini-meal, then you won’t end up eating until 5 or 6 hours after your previous meal. The bottom line is this: you need to eat healthy starting with breakfast. If you don’t, you set your entire day up to be a cycle of swings and crashes and poor muscle recovery. So basically, if you’re not hungry, eat a snack anyway. We should not necessarily be eating just because we are hungry right? You’ve heard that enough by now. We eat for energy and nutrients. A consistent structure of eating around the clock will teach your body when it wants its nutrients, and you will not need to go through hunger pangs to get there.

Looking at this 7-meal example above, let’s assume that you have an after-school practice that starts at 3:45. You just spent the last 7 hours sitting in a classroom. By eating according to the example above you have eaten 4 times, steadily supplying your body full of nutrients and maintaining your energy level, before your practice. Will you have the energy and motivation to perform your best? Not only will you perform better on the field, you will have the stamina and capacity to hit the books at night. It is about setting yourself up for success physically and mentally.

How can I eat 5-7 meals a day?

odwallaI actually find eating 5-7 times a day to be easier than the traditional 3-squares-a-day philosophy. For one, by eating more frequently, you are eating less volume per meal. You are not as hungry, can eat quicker, and there are no mood or energy swings associated. You already have energy, and a small nutrient driven snack just sustain that energy. Also, you do not have to worry about whether or not you are fueling your body with enough. There is no guesswork. Just eat healthy and consistent, and your body and hormonal system will take care of the rest. Now you can just focus on what it is you need to focus on, and excel at that.

So how do I do it? I will use the above example again, as it is pretty consistent with your average day of school. This is where I like the idea of supplements coming in, primarily a powdered protein or meal replacement shake. Again, more detail on supplements is in the supplement article.

Breakfast 7 a.m.—It makes the most sense that breakfast is pretty important. You have not eaten since the night before and it stands to reason that your body needs nutrients. First thing upon waking is to drink some water. Start getting the most important nutrient of all into the system. Dehydration will mess with your ability to eat throughout the day, so address it first and foremost. You don’t need to crush the bottle, just begin to drink it normally and continue to drink it with breakfast (get rid of the sugar filled juices—eat your calories, don’t drink them).

Eat breakfast! Without going into a lot of different breakfast foods, try to eat a balanced meal. A standard, balanced meal would consist of foods with whole grains, fruit, eggs, and cottage cheese.

Snacks, or mini-meals 9 a.m. & 3 p.m.—I call them mini-meals because I’m looking for high-octane snacks that have the nutrients of a meal. Outside of lunch, our snack meals are going to need to be quick and convenient and with the capacity to not spoil. So a little bit of planning and preparation will be necessary the night before. These are a few ideas of what would make excellent snacks, that feed the body and the brain. A very small amount of several of these snacks provides the nutrients of a full meal.

• fruit (sliced or peeled) and raw veggies in a zip-lock bag
• nuts & trail mix combos
• protein powder in a bottle (just need to add water, shake, and drink)
• healthy fiber or protein bar
• peanut butter and jelly sandwich on whole grain bread

There are lots of snack ideas, but these are just a few examples. Find out what you like and what makes you tick. Pay attention to what makes you feel the best in the classroom, or on the field. Always be aware to how you prepare yourself, experiment and tweak things until you find your best combination.

breakfastLunch 12 p.m.—Keep this simple. Eat a well balanced meal like you would if you were at home. Again, you have to prepare the night prior. Ask mom to cook a little extra dinner every night so you can pack it up for lunch. I don’t know whether or not you have access to a cooler or refrigerator, but do some due diligence and find out what is available to you. The bottom line is you need to eat a good healthy meal.

Pre-workout & post-workout meals —I will address this in greater detail in another article. Anything in the above snack example would be okay. Simply, again just eat something healthy to include some carbs for energy. Like I said earlier, find out what works best for you prior to a workout or practice. You want energy and mental acuity. You have those and you will perform like a champ on the field.

Dinner —Nothing new here. This might be an okay chance to eat a little more than normal, as you are going to relax the rest of the night. If you do not eat a snack before you go to bed, then this will be the last meal you eat before you wake. So eat accordingly.

Bedtime snack – If you want a snack before bed, eat something between 200 and 400 calories that can supply your system with some quality protein (for muscle reconstruction while you sleep) that is moderate to low in carbs and fat.

What if I do not like to eat breakfast?

I have a stubborn little man who really just does not like to eat breakfast. I know that it’s quite common. Even if they sit down to eat, they do not really consume that much. Then two hours later they become extremely hungry and often have to wait until lunch before they finally do get to eat. I don’t necessarily see the not eating breakfast as the problem, but not eating when they do get hungry as the problem.

If you don’t like breakfast, drink a fruit smoothie or a protein shake. This will get some nutrients into you upon waking, and will hold you over until your first snack. There are some convenient smoothie drinks out there now that are pretty healthy with natural and whole fruits like Naked, Bolthouse Farms, and Odwalla (most recommended).  Just make sure that for your first snack you avoid another protein shake, rather eat actual food and eat enough. So basically you are switching your breakfast and first snack. At the end of the day you have still eaten the same amount of calories and nutrients and have spread them throughout the day.

smoothie shakeHow do we consume an extra 2-4 meals per day?  Like in the example above, there are a lot of different ways to consume extra meals throughout the day. One of the benefits to eating this way is you are getting a much wider variety of healthy foods by including snacks. For example, when was the last time you served up some almonds and trail mix with your dinner? It’s not very standard.

I think it’s important to keep healthy snacks available and in the open at home. Throw a bunch of gummy bears on the counter and guess what they’re going to eat? On the other hand, put some strawberries or trail mix on the same counter and like the little Pavlovian dogs they will gravitate. Yes I know, I called our kids little Pavlovian dogs. I feel bad.

Another way to incorporate mini-meals or snacks is to prepare food in bulk. Have little meals, for instance a piece of chicken breast with vegetables, prepared and stored in tupperware. I am told microwaving kills the nutrients of the food, but I don’t know.

See Supplements article for another great way to add meals to a busy day.

I’m not a robot, what if I can’t eat healthy all the time?

Here is where I am going to cut you some slack. I am going to give my blessing to eat some of your favorite foods, including fast food. I consider myself a realist, and I know that cutting out all bad foods all of the time is not only practical, but also not necessary. There is an enjoyment factor that comes with eating. I can also make an argument to you, backed by facts, that eating a cheat meal can also benefit you. I’m not going to make that argument, but I could.

90/10 – 80/20 Rule—We need to live life a little bit and indulge. However, this rule comes down to discipline. The 90/10 rule is basically the percentage of healthy meals vs. “cheat” meals that you can have. If you are fairly lean I would allow that percentage to dip to 80/20.

90 10 ruleNow before you get all excited and think that you can go to town on any fast food every 10 meals, be aware that I am not counting your mini-meals or snacks, and your protein shakes. I’m talking about your breakfast, lunch, and dinner meals. So a good rule of thumb is after every 3 days of healthy eating, it’s okay to divulge and eat that tasty food, that just so happens to be unhealthy. For example, I ate a couple hot dogs at the ASU football game. I felt like hurling after, but nonetheless it was tasty during.

Here’s what I recommend: I would eat as healthy as you can knowing that a situation will present itself where you are pretty much subject to a “cheat” meal. For example, you’re invited to a team party where fast food is offered, or something unexpected happens and you need to revert to eating whatever. Since you have eaten clean you can afford to eat this “cheat” meal.

The other option is to plan ahead for eating your “cheat” meal. For example, you know you’re having a team party over the weekend at a pizza joint, or you plan to go to a party where unhealthy food will be present. Eat well prior, then know you can indulge yourself without any guilt. You can also make a “cheat” meal a reward for a full week of healthy eating. I like to eat well all week long, then eat pizza on a Friday night. I don’t worry about it, I just devour it.

Again, it’s nice to work hard on achieving your goals. But at the same time, we need rare times where we can reward ourselves and just enjoy certain things for the sake of enjoying them. But with that comes discipline. We cannot allow ourselves to get complacent and turn a “cheat” meal into an ongoing habit. I’ve said it many times, goals keep us focused and on the right track.

Are there any rules to the “cheat” meals?

Of course. But I’m not going to ruin it too much. Try to keep it in moderation. The portion size offered by fast food joints is by design. They know the more you shovel in your body the more likely you are to feel the addictive effects created. Just avoid eating too much. If you are eating by the rules and consistently, you will not feel any need to overeat like crazy. The other thing I recommend is to avoid soft drinks, especially when eating an unhealthy meal. The amount of extra sugar from a soft drink will just overload the system and is just completely unnecessary. If you like soda, then have a “cheat” soda now and then but consume it by itself.

Fast food is my only option, what do I do?

So you’re at a fast food joint and you still want to maintain your discipline. Nice. Follow these rules to minimize the damage:

• drink water, & stay away from soda, juices, & milkshakes
• keep the portion size in perspective
• eat grilled, baked, steamed, or baked items (avoid fried foods)
• limit sides and extras (condiments & dressings)
• avoid saturated fats (read nutritional info if necessary)

I’m on the go non-stop, what do I do?

I know about busy schedules, being on the go, and the need for convenient foods. This is so common and relevant that it is often the back breaker for most. Like everything, planning and preparation are crucial.

snack packHave to run out the house without any time to prepare—Have convenient foods available in the house that you can “grab & go” such as: fruit, fiber and protein bars, nuts and trail mix, Greek yogurt, healthy string cheese, and the healthy smoothie drinks mentioned earlier. You can also have protein shakes pre-made and in the fridge to “grab & go.”

I have 30 minutes in between driving from school to practice & I need to eat .

We’re away from home, on the go, & we need to eat—Don’t forget to drink water with these options for a quick “grab & go” meal:

• Fast food—If you find yourself going to fast food, choose Subway.  I always look at cost, and frankly Subway is no more expensive than anywhere else. At Subway you have the choice of wheat bread and fresh veggies rather than white buns and greasy meat. There are other fast food restaurants that provide decent options like Panda Xpress (get vegetables and chicken teriyaki).

• Quick stop convenience stores like Circle K or QT—although most items are processed and packaged for a long shelf life, there are a few okay options. Again, you can consider a protein or smoothie drink like Naked, Bolthouse Farms, or Odwalla. You can find protein or high fiber bars, packages of nuts and trail mix, and also actual fruit (hopefully and likely local fruit). They also have salads, but if I want a salad I just go to a grocery store. • Grocery stores – so many competing grocery stores have made an effort to cater to the healthy crowd, which makes this a decent stop for even a quick “grab & go.” You can find the same items above at the quick convenience stores. Some stores have a salad bar which is nice, or some cooked meals to include lean meat and steamed veggies. There is a large variety for fruits and nuts, as well as ready to go protein drinks.

Final Random Notes & Thoughts: Often times our body reacts and responds differently from a day to day basis. We should strive for structure and consistency in hopes our body becomes a finely tuned and timed machine. But it does not always happen. Sometimes we might find ourselves hungry a lot. We might be eating good and folsubwaylowing all the rules, but find ourselves still hungry. That is no problem – eat. It’s your body’s way of telling you that you are hungry and needing the fuel from food. In contrast, we also go through periods where we do not feel like eating and it seems to be a struggle or a chore to eat. This is really true for hard gainers. Again, listen to your body as it is just telling you that it does not need the food at that time. In that case, continue to eat consistently throughout the day but less volume. Eat less food and add an extra protein shake to get nutrients.

Plan & Prepare: Simply plan and prepare for your daily and weekly dietary needs. Communicate with and help your parents in ensuring that you are getting the proper foods. Together you can come up with a plan on how to best prepare you for the upcoming week. Also, be willing to experiment with different kinds of healthy dishes.

Limit the sweets for sweet success:   If you are a habitual sweets eater, stop! Not only are these foods often loaded with tons of fat, calories and sugar…but they are filled with what we would call “empty calories”. This means that these foods do NOTHING for helping your abilities come game time, and they hurt your muscles ability to repair themselves and grow larger. They can also leave your metabolism as flat as a pancake by giving you very little useable energy.

Nothing is perfect, so do the best you can: Anything that needs to be packaged and preserved for a long shelf life will contain some form of processed additives and preservatives. Even the healthy foods. You could probably find something wrong with most every food offered in a grocery store. Even fresh food could have been subject to pesticides at one time, or fresh fished is exposed to mercury. My point is there is the possibility that all foods may contain something not completely natural. It is what it is, so we just do the best we can. One option is to try and buy local when possible. Local foods are not subject to being shipped and delivered across the country, therefore are more natural. Not to mention it supports our local community, and encourages them to continue producing healthy foods.

Monitor & Learn: I’ve mentioned that everyone responds differently to different things. You have to be willing to experiment a little and try different things to find what makes you perform at your best. This can help you the rest of your life. You might find nuts and trail mix allow you to concentrate best and helps you perform better on exams. On the other hand, you might find that you respond physically to a protein shake with a banana, and therefore prefer that before a game. You need to change things up and find out what is best for you.

protein drink for on goAlso, utilize the internet to learn more about health in general, to include nutrition. I know there is a lot of misinformation out there, but at the same time there are a lot of smart people with very intellectual and intelligent information. You will also be able to learn new methods and techniques that may help you down the road. Just remember to apply common sense, and do not be afraid to challenge the so called consensus. It’s your health. It’s important for you to be healthy for yourself and your family around you.

In Conclusion I encourage everyone to focus on eating as healthy as possible. Like I just mentioned, nothing is perfect. Most everything contains something that may not be completely beneficial. Read the back of a label, and you will find something on there that experts say is bad for you. Do not be discouraged by that. Do the best that you can and eat as best as you can, because it’s never going to be perfect.

Every person has the ability to be in control of their choices that deal with their health. The first step is to just get into the consistent habit of eating healthy. There is nothing scientific or difficult about that. Once you do, you will find an increased focus and energy level that will help you reach your potential on and off the field.

Also see:  Optimal Eating Blue Print Abbreviated

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Nutrition 101 Series

1  What's Out There?
2  Fast Food Industry
3  Hormones & Energy Levels
4  What Not to Eat
5  What to Eat

6  Important Points
7  Optimal Eating Blueprint
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Supplement Series

1  To Take or Not to Take
2  Best Supplements for Athletic Performance
3  My Supplement Recommendations
4  Supplement Products That I Use and Recommend

Nutrient Timing for Optimal Performance
Post-Workout Supplementation