Is your athlete trying to build lean muscle mass? They can bench and squat all they want, but if they don't eat right, they’ll get squat for results. Power up their diet with advice from Julie Burns, nutrition consultant for the Chicago Blackhawks and White Sox and founder of Eat Like the Pros and SportFuel, Inc.
Pre-activity: Morning of
“The biggest determinant in terms of gaining weight is actually getting the right amount of good, quality calories," Burns says. But the nutritional composition of those calories is especially important. Burns says that consuming too many carbs can lead to fat gain, and getting too little protein inhibits athletes from gaining as much lean mass as possible.
Before your athlete stacks his or her plate, Burns advises to first help your athlete determine the number of calories they need to maintain their weight at rest [i.e., resting metabolic rate]. To that total, add calories they need for activity, plus additional calories for building lean mass and to support their training. The goal is to eat more than they burn, because, according to Burns, “if you're not eating enough calories, you’re using protein for fuel and breaking down your muscles."
Encourage your athlete to space their meals throughout the day if you’ve found that strategy helps them consume the calories they need. "Smaller athletes [who] are trying to gain weight have to eat more often, because their stomachs aren't as big and they have a harder time getting those calories in," Burns says.
A simple, energy-packed breakfast option includes two waffles with two teaspoons of butter or margarine. Add one cup of strawberries and three-and-a-half ounces of Canadian bacon. Continue fueling throughout the day with lunch, dinner, a recovery drink and a couple of 200-calorie snacks. Burns suggests a quarter-cup of nuts or seeds. Try Brazil nuts, walnuts or pumpkin seeds.
Post-activity: Within 30 minutes of finishing
Eat up soon after intense activity. “That's when the muscle is really receptive to picking up protein and carbohydrates, so timing's critical," Burns says.
In fact, she and the Blackhawks' athletic trainers require that the players consume a recovery drink immediately after stepping off the ice.
Encourage your athlete to consume a balanced meal thereafter with quality, colorful fruits, starchy vegetables and protein to help their body reach an anabolic state.
“During exercise, you're catabolic, [so] you're breaking down because you're utilizing the fuel for your activity," Burns says. "[Post-activity], the most important goal is to become anabolic, meaning to build up.”