In the sixth nutrition article of our year-long Build A Better Athlete series, we look into summer eating habits. As athletes leave school for the summer, it can be easy for them to forget the healthy eating habits that got them in top shape during the season. University of Georgia sports nutritionist and registered dietitian Maria Breen, who has worked with athletes like NCAA women's gymnastics champion Kat Ding, has some tips on how athletes can approach their summer menu.
ESPNHS: How should a serious athlete approach their summer eating regimen?
Breen: I like their nutrition to be reflective of their training. The offseason is a great time to work on nutrition. It's the time to get back to basics and the foundations. I use the summer time to focus on cooking skills and grocery store shopping skills, stuff that would be tough to do during the season. It's also a good time to focus on body composition, like trying to build lean mass. Get in the habit of eating three meals a day and small snacks throughout the day so those habits are in place when you back.
ESPNHS: What type of nutrition advice do you give to your athletes before they leave school for the summer?
Breen: It is different for every athlete, and overall, I don't give specific plans. The big risk is that you view summer eating as a vacation. I don't want the athletes putting aside what we worked on for two months. I usually point out hydration, since that's very important during the summer, as well as taking in enough carbohydrates. Try to stay away from the processed foods and the simple sugars and focus on lean meats, vegetables, low-fat dairy and whole grains. Carbs are the main source of energy for the muscles, so athletes need to make sure they are taking in enough if they are exercising and training a lot.
ESPNHS: What have you found athletes typically run into trouble with in regards to nutrition during the summer months?
Breen: A collegiate athlete has a routine and is highly scheduled. When you get that pulled out from underneath you and you have all this time, it can throw off your food pattern. Athletes could end up eating fast food a lot more or dining out more. The problem with that is it can take time to get back to where you were.
ESPNHS: What types of foods typically consumed during the summer should be avoided and why?
Breen: There's no food I'd say is off limits to athletes. Any food can be fit into a plan. If you avoid something, an athlete could crave it and over-consume. Ice cream would be one of those foods that could get you. Others would be the mayonnaise-based foods like potato salad and the heavy, fried meats like fried chicken or ribs. View these foods as treats and something you'd eat on occasion. I'd limit these to a minimum.
ESPNHS: What would be the best summer foods for athletes to eat and why?
Breen: Summers are great because there are tons of fruit that are in season. Fruit is great for athletes because it's high in carbohydrates, which are going to help fuel their physical activity. They're also packed with nutrients, which can act as an anti-inflammatory and fight chronic disease. There's also a lot of water content in fruit, so it can help hydrate athletes as well. Blueberries are filled with antioxidants, which can help reconstruct cellular damage caused by strenuous exercise.
I also really like yogurt in the summertime. It's a great source of protein and carbohydrates. It's also high in calcium, which is great for high school athletes who are still building their bone density. I also focus on grilled foods like vegetables and lean meats. Grilling can be a healthy cooking method.