Good nutrition – it’s not just for Olympians

You don’t need to be an Olympian to understand the importance of good nutrition. Resources such as MyPlate can help anyone eat a healthy, well-balanced diet.

Thousands of athletes from around the world have been busy training on the ice, snow and slopes to be in top shape for the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang. When you watch your favorite Olympic event on television, do you ever wonder what these athletes eat?

The majority of Olympic athletes have trainers and dieticians that monitor their diet very carefully. However, if one takes the time to research this subject more closely, one thing is consistently evident: Successful athletes take their nutritional intake very seriously.

Most of us don’t have the luxury of working with a personal trainer or dietician, but there are resources available to help us eat a healthy and more balanced diet. The U.S. Department of Agriculture's MyPlate is a wonderful guide that uses the five food groups as building blocks to a healthy diet.

MyPlate recommends finding your eating style and maintaining it for a lifetime. This means:

  • Make half your plate fruits and vegetables – focus on whole fruits and vary your veggies.
  • Make half your grains whole grains.
  • Move to low-fat and fat-free milk or yogurt.
  • Vary your protein routine.
  • Consume less sodium, saturated fat and added sugars.

If you or a family member is physically active or compete athletically, the The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine provides the following guidelines:

  • Dietary Balance – body weight maintenance means energy in must equal energy out. Since athletes tend to burn more calories they need to consume more calories to prevent loss of muscle mass and loss of bone density.
  • Carbohydrates – carbohydrates tend to be the primary fuel utilized during high-intensity exercise and there is evidence that it boosts endurance and performance.
  • Fat – high fat diets, specifically animal fats that are high in saturated fat, are not recommended for athletes and should be avoided.
  • Protein – composed of amino acids, protein plays an important role in the building, maintenance and repair of muscle tissue in the body. Plant based proteins (nuts and legumes) are best because they contain fiber.
  • Water – maintaining optimal hydration will promote performance and aid in preventing injury. Water is the best and most effective form of hydration.
  • Putting it all together – Choosing nutrient-dense foods (whole grains, vegetables, legumes, fruits) will provide athletes with many of the vitamins and minerals needed for training and competition.

Michigan State University Extension provides programs that focus on healthy eating and exercise. For more information, contact your local MSU Extension office. 

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