Emily Hosker-Thornhill, University of New Mexico ’16; BSc, MSc Nutrition
Americans are not known for having the healthiest diets in the world. There are so many fast food chains and convenience foods that temptation is always just around the corner. Whilst there are usually some more nutritious options, fries and large portions of all the wrong foods are also always available.
When I moved to America, I was living at altitude, so as a distance runner my diet obviously changed. It took a while for me to find what was good and what was not, and what worked with my new training schedule. I studied Nutrition as my undergrad degree, and I now have a masters in Sport Nutrition, so hopefully this information can help you!
So let’s start with some basics of what you as an athlete should be eating each day. Obviously, each track and field discipline has different requirements, so I’ll go super basic here.
1. Fruit and veg – You need 5 portions of fruit and veg a day – minimum! Try to aim for more veggies than fruit. (Potatoes do not count, even sweet potatoes).
2. Stay hydrated! You’ll more than likely be given a water bottle out there so use it! This is especially true if you’re in a hot climate or at altitude.
3. Protein – Americans love protein and think it’s the magic ingredient to success. Whilst it’s obviously important, you don’t need to overkill it and find processed high protein bars to eat all the time.
4. Carbs – carbs are pretty much the same. Pasta, potatoes, rice…but bread…bread is like cake in America. Some brands are so sweet and sugary, so try and eat wholemeal or buy brands that have lower sugar e.g. less than 1g of sugar per slice.
5. Recovery – its important to refuel after training sessions. Try and aim to have something within 30 mins after your workout. Most universities will have a snacking station for after your workouts, so use them! Try and aim for something like a banana, bagel and PB, chocolate milk or Gatorade.
As an undergrad, you’ll most likely be going to the canteen/food hall for your meals. They’re usually not too far away from your accommodation and generally provide breakfast, lunch and dinner. There are a lot of different choices of food available, and this can be difficult to navigate to find the best options for athletes. Here are some top tips for how to navigate this:
1. With each meal, aim for a protein, carbs and fruit/veggie source.
2. Try and avoid always choosing deep fat fried food. Fries may be tasty, but you don’t need them every day. There will be so many other choices!
3. Portion sizes are huge but try and eat just until you’re full and have replenished your energy expenditure.
4. Temptation is at every corner; there will be an array of tasty, sugary and delicious foods for you to chose from. Life is about balance though so, whilst these foods aren’t good all the time, they won’t hurt every so often.
5. Try different options and find what works for you pre and post training. There is nothing worse than feeling under fuelled before you start a big training session.
When you move off campus, sharing an apartment or house with others, you’ll need to start cooking for yourself. Two key things to remember when food shopping is:
1. Try and stay to the outer edges of the supermarket. By this I mean that’s usually where all the fresh food is kept like fruit and veggies, dairy, meats, bakery and frozen. Obviously, you’ll need to venture down middle isle for things like pasta, rice and tinned foods but most of the good stuff is on the outer edges.
2. When buying something processed or ready-made (i.e. a jar of pasta sauce), look for items that have 5 ingredients or less. You don’t need all the additives and preservatives that are in some items.
Unfortunately, nutrition is not the simplest of subjects to navigate. There are going to be a lot of fast food and tasty new options available to you. And whilst these are all tempting and part of experiencing America, you also want to get the best out of your performance, because that’s what you’re there to do! As I’ve said before, life is about balance and being happy and healthy!