Though eating right is something we should all strive toward every day, in the month of March, we pay particularly close attention to it, being that March is National Nutrition Month. For athletes at any level of competition, nutrition can be just as important as physical training sessions. We caught up with Nuwanee Kirihennedige, Sports Dietitian at the United States Olympic Committee, who works with the U.S. Men’s and Women’s Goalball Teams and other Team USA athletes to ask her about healthy eating habits and what tips she has whether you’re an aspiring Paralympian or just starting a workout regimen.
“We all know that proper nutrition is important for everyone for day-to-day bodily functions,” says Kirihennedige, “and it is especially true for athletes who are trying to push the limit and achieve high-level athletic performances. Just as fancy, high-performing cars need high-quality fuel, athletes should fuel their bodies with high-quality fuel – food!”
Kirihennedige gives three tips for eating right:
– Eat to train. Athletes should adjust their nutrition intake based on intensity and duration of exercise. The Athlete’s Plate is a good tool to use for allocating nutrients for training and goals. A good rule of thumb is the harder and longer you train, the more carbohydrates you will need; thus, the starch and grain part of the Athlete’s Plate increases as activity levels increase.
– Choose high-performing foods. When preparing or selecting meals, choose high-quality food. Stay away from processed food and eat more whole food. We are what we eat!
– Stay hydrated. Losing as little as 2% of body fluid can significantly lower athletic performance (especially endurance). Drink fluid throughout the day. Chugging fluid all at once is not a good strategy because the body discards excess fluid when taken too drastically. Carrying a water bottle is a good way to enforce day-to-day hydration.
Goalball athletes also weighed in with their own tips for eating right:
“It is easiest to maintain a nutrition habit when you do it every day. I start every morning by eating a banana. I also always pack an apple in my lunch to eat at work. That way, I know I’m always getting two pieces of fruit every day.” – John Kusku, Rio 2016 Paralympic Silver Medalist
“Moderation is key – whether that is portion size or grabbing fast food every once in a while.” – Jen Armbruster, Seven-time Paralympian and Rio 2016 Bronze Medalist
“Vegetables, fruits, low-fat proteins, and carbs are the foundations of the Athlete’s Plate. You don’t need to be a Paralympian to eat like one. No one ever gained weight from eating green leafy vegetables. Any time a young blind or visually impaired athlete asks me how I got to the level I did athletically, I tell them I ate a lot of spinach.” – Andy Jenks, Rio 2016 Paralympic Silver Medalist
“Growing your own vegetables and fruit is cheaper than buying them, they taste better and it’s a relaxing hobby. It’s also a great way to get kids into eating healthy. As soon as our son could walk, he would walk into the garden and eat the chives. We recently started growing herbs too. Our son really likes the herb garden because its shaped like a castle.” – Asya Miller, Five-time Paralympian and Rio 2016 Bronze Medalist