For athletes, eating healthy is hard. But not for the usual reasons.
When most people eat poorly, they feel unhealthy and eventually it shows on their waistline. But for serious athletes (especially younger ones), the amount of activity they do renders that almost irrelevant.
But the nutritional goal for athletes isn’t just to look and feel good. It’s to enable yourself to reach even higher levels of performance.
This means finding nutritional advantages that could lead to even a 10% improvement. As an athlete, I often turned to smoothies (surprise surprise) to achieve this. Here are some tricks you can use as an athlete (or an athlete’s trainer/coach/mom) to make smoothies that help you perform your best:
1. Protein: Think Outside The Tub
There's one rule of nutrition that every athlete knows: more protein = more muscle. However, not all protein powders are created equal, and many aren’t created for traditional athletes. The vast majority of powders on the market are designed for bodybuilders with very specific dietary needs. Although bodybuilders are certainly athletes in their own right, they are adding more muscle than traditional athletes and doing less cardiovascular activity.
Bodybuilders need up to 2g of protein per kg of bodyweight. This is close to the limit that the body can process before suffering from excess nitrogen. Many are also looking to minimize their carb intake, and the standard protein powders reflect that. Bodybuilding protein powders can also leave you feeling bloated if taken before a workout.
For endurance-based athletes, you’ll want a slightly more moderate (but still large) 1.5g of protein per kg of bodyweight. Whether you drink your smoothie before or after your workout, you’ll also need a healthy amount of carbohydrates for fuel and a variety of vitamins for recovery. Simple protein shakes don’t suffice for this - but here’s some things that do:
- Seeds. Hemp seeds, chia seeds, and pumpkin seeds all blend great in a smoothie and packed with protein in addition to other incredible health benefits.
- Spreads. Almond butter and peanut butter are packed with protein and make a great hearty smoothie. Protip: always pair with a banana.
- Dairy. Don’t sleep on the basics. All types of milk (Keffir, Almond, Soy, regular) are packed with protein. Yogurt (especially greek) does the same.
- Sport-focused protein powders. Protein powders can still be a useful supplement if you choose the right one. Look for powders that emphasize their secondary benefits - BCAAs, glutamine, and carbohydrates are good indicators of quality.
2. Hack Your Hydration
I’ll never forget my grade 8 basketball coach drilling into my head: “If your pee isn’t clear, you’re not hydrated enough!”. Strangely, I still refer to that rule today. Although it’s not perfect, I find it more useful than the arbitrary “8 glasses of water a day” rule. Some people need 5 glasses, some people (like me) need 20.
Water also isn’t the only way to get hydrated. If you’re having a smoothie, there are a few things you can put in that will ensure you’re totally ready for game time:
- Water-heavy fruits and veggies. Adding cucumber, celeries or watermelon to your smoothies is a great way to get nutrients and water.
- Coconut water. Sure, it’s trendy, but it’s also low in sodium and high in potassium. It also tastes great in most smoothies.
- Water. You don't always need a costly liquid base for your smoothies. Sometimes, good old-fashioned water is the best thing for you.
3. Find Natural Nutrient Boosters
If you’re like me, the last thing you want as an athlete is to be reading the back of nutrition labels.
What you need is a couple whole foods that you know will get you the goods you need. There are a hundred different vitamins that athletes need, but I’ve highlighted 3 here that are particularly important and easily fulfilled through smoothies:
- Magnesium. Important for bone density, lost through sweat. Found in kale, swiss chard, spinach.
- Potassium. Stops cramps and speeds up recovery. Found in bananas, blueberries, and spinach.
- Vitamin C. Keeps you from getting sick on game day. Found in mangos, blackberries, kale.
I hope you put these tips to work to drive your performance to even higher levels. If you want us to make them for you, you should check out The Good Stuff's Elite Training Bundle.