Athletes need to eat a wide a range of foods to ensure they hit their daily intake of essential nutrients and their performance doesn’t drop. One of the most important nutrients athletes need to consume is carbohydrates.
Carbohydrates are one of the three main macronutrients alongside fats and protein. Out of the three, carbs are the one most directly associated to performance. Carbohydrates get converted into glycogen to be stored in the muscles as a readily available source of energy for the muscles. When glycogen is depleted, the athlete cannot perform at their highest level.
Why are whole grains important?
Whole grains are often cited as a healthy source of carbohydrates due to their vitamin, mineral and fibre content, though it all comes down to picking the right grains. As with anything, there are certain types of whole grains which hold a greater amount of nutrition compared to others.
The healthier varieties of whole grains provide slow-release energy. Unlike sugary items such as sweetened cereals, pastries, cakes, and biscuits which cause a spike in blood-sugar levels and energy, whole grains release energy over a long period of time to create a sustained effect. The last thing you want is to have a crash right in the middle of your game or training session.
As well as this, an important factor of any athlete’s lifestyle is maintaining a healthy body composition. Carrying too much weight can hinder performance, not to mention the ill health effects associated with being overweight no matter your activity level. Unfortunately, just because athletes exercise regularly, it doesn’t mean that if you’re overweight you’re healthy.
Whole grains help to keep us fuller for longer due to their fibre content. Oats in particular are notorious for this because they absorb a lot of water which helps them build volume in the stomach. In turn, this signals to the brain that you’re full and keeps you satiated for an extended period of time.
What are whole grains?
In order for a food to be labelled as ‘wholegrain’, it needs to list one of the following:
- Brown Rice
- Bulgur wheat
- Whole-grain Corn
- Whole-grain Barley
- Whole-grain Oats
- Whole wheat
Some of them are seeds e.g. quinoa, but in practice are considered as whole grain.
How to increase your whole grain intake
There are several products which could help to boost your daily whole grain intake.
- Whole-grain cereals: Wheaties, Cheerios, total, kasha, and shredded wheat are all good options. Look for anything that has whole grain on the box. It’s usually written in big bold letters.
- Oatmeal: You can eat oatmeal cooked like porridge or raw as part of a blend like with muesli. Oatmeal makes for a great option either way. If you’re stuck for time, there are instant versions of oatmeal which can be mixed with water or milk and microwaved for two minutes. This provides a much quicker solution for breakfast compared to cooking it on the stove.
- Whole grain breads: When it comes to whole grain vs non-whole grain products, there’s no greater disparity than with breads. Whole grain breads have a much greater degree of nutrition than white products. Always aim for the breads that list they are whole grain such as wheat, rye, or oatmeal. You can always freeze breads to ensure you have a steady supply when you need it.
- Whole-grain crackers: Crackers are a convenient source of nutrition that you can take with you on the go or eat when you’re pinched for time. Though, you need to choose the whole-grain healthier options to avoid any added ingredients and fats which can be troublesome. Top them with peanut butter and get a healthy snack.
- Popcorn: Making your own popcorn is a great way to increase your fibre and carbohydrate intake without any of the extra oils and sugars that are added to pre-made products. Making the popcorn yourself allows you to add what you want and how much of it you want. However, if you don’t want to make your own or don’t have time, choose the lower-calorie options as they will have a lower amount of added oil. You’ll also want to choose a lower salt variety to avoid unwanted sodium which can lead to bloating. Try adding seasoning you’d usually add to your favourite dishes.
So, the next time you’re looking for a healthy breakfast, lunch, or dinner, try to choose a whole grain option. As an athlete, it’s easy to think you can get away with eating junk food without seeing any repercussions. Try to make sure that the majority of your carbohydrate intake comes from these healthy whole grains.
- Nancy Clark’s Sports Nutrition Guidebook-5th Edition by Nancy Clark