Athletes seeking a healthy performance weight should eat high fiber, low-fat food balanced with their training regimen in order to maintain muscle while still burning fat, according to a report by an Oregon State University researcher.
The United States now has a record number of overweight athletes, a population many think of as untouched by the obesity crisis. Nationally, more than 45 percent of high school linebackers are obese, and the number of overweight students entering college level-sports is increasing.
In a peer-reviewed literature review published this summer in the Nestle Nutritional Institution Workshop Series, OSU researcher Melinda Manore looked at the benefits of teaching athletes how to consume what she calls a low-energy-dense diet, or high-fiber, high-water, but lower-fat foods. She said too many athletes are pushed into fad diets or try to restrict calorie intake too much in a way that is unhealthy and unsustainable.
"Depending on the sport, athletes sometime want to either lose weight without losing lean tissue, or gain weight, mostly lean tissue," she said. "This is very difficult to do if you restrict caloric intake too dramatically or try to lose the weight too fast. Doing that also means they don't have the energy to exercise, or they feel tired and put themselves at risk of injury."
Manore is professor of nutrition in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences at OSU. She said the overwhelming body of research shows that just counting calories does not work. What does work is a healthy lifestyle that can be maintained, even during breaks or when not in training. She said an athlete's optimum body weight should include the following criteria:
In the paper, Manore outlined some strategies that athletes can use to maintain a healthy weight and remain performance-ready. It's important, she said, to adopt a low-energy-dense diet, which includes a large amount of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meat, fish, and low-fat dairy. Avoid beverages high in sugar, especially soda and alcohol. Manore said half of a plate of food should be filled with fruits and veggies, and processed food should be avoided.
"Always opt for the food over the drink, don't drink your calories," Manore said. "Instead of drinking orange juice, eat an orange. It has more fiber, and fills you up more."
Other key points:
While her paper is aimed at competitive and recreational athletes, Manore said all of these tips can apply to anyone who wants to change their diet and head in a healthier direction.
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