Jan 26 2014

Eating Like an Athlete

By: Jhesika Menes

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With the 63rd NBA Allstar game coming to New Orleans followed almost immediately by March Madness, there won't be a lack for lean mean machines on the scene. Optimum performance in a physically fit package sure makes for an enjoyable view, yet I find myself most impressed with the player’s ability to make light speed judgments. How exactly does one get to that inexhaustible level of fitness in body and mind? Truth be told, you'll be surprised how easy it is to diet like a b-baller.

My cousin played basketball all throughout high school and early on in college. I phoned her up and asked about her diet during those days, “Are you kidding? I never watched what I ate. I was a teenager, I loved hamburgers and soda. I barely slept a solid six hours a night. I've been completely wiped out on the court, but when that adrenaline kicks in you're on all cylinders. I don't think kids are as serious about the lifestyle. When you're a professional athlete your body has to become your temple.” So, the invincibility of youth is real and age has a lot to do with agility, obviously. After much research I found some interesting information that makes her case quite common. Junk foods, high carb snacks and the like are burned by the metabolism quickly because of elevated activity levels. While they lack substantial nutrition the athlete requires, used in moderation they don't inhibit athletic performance in children. A University of Arizona study showed that children who ate a diet too low in dietary fat resulted in decreased performance and were susceptible to other health problems, like vital fat absorption vitamin deficiencies. 

Sports dietitian Tavis Piattoly advises, “Professional athletes maximize energy levels by eating a well-balanced diet.” Well-balanced diet seems to be the answer to any question involving physical fitness, low fat to muscle ratio, and weight loss. What I want to know is, what is the secret? And why do the laws of nature change with age? That answer is perhaps the easiest of all: Hormones. Children get away with an unsatisfactory diet and continue to have boundless energy because they are in a state of growth. Cell division, maximum metabolic rate, simply being 'agog with life' are all factors. During adolescence, hormonal changes during maturation of the child's genetic potential occurs causing slower, more stable bodily processes in total. It helps, too, that children tend to eat around the clock resulting in a supercharged metabolism. As an adult it is important to get in the habit of eating every three hours to maintain a high level of energy, improve recovery, and maximize performance goals. That may just be the "secret" I've been seeking. 

The diet recommended for an athlete is not very different from the diet recommended for any healthy person. The variables lie in food groups based on the type of sport being played, the amount of time in training, or that devoted to exercise. Think about basketball as a sport. Laborious dedication to running, jumping, and nimble hand-eye coordination outlines the general discipline. Impact, mostly from opponents or the occasional fall, puts a weak body at risk. Sports medicine has evolved over the years to develop an industry standard for all playing surfaces in the athletic arena. What may be best suited for high impact sports like football wouldn't be the same for soccer or volleyball. The dietary basis is structured around the foundation of hydration. Dietitians then build a food and exercise guide based on the sport and the individual's body type.

The average height for professional basketball player is 6'7” for males and 5'10” for females.  Connective tissue, ligaments and joints suffer most in taller individuals, particularly basketball players.  Hydration is key for these soft tissue fluids, especially the spine where hydraulic properties of water are stored in the vertebral disc core. Glucosamine, a natural compound found in healthy cartilage, is a common supplement in an athlete's diet. Keeping adequately hydrated also prevents stiff muscles, while the glucosamine helps reduce joint pain by aiding in cartilage’s absorption of water. Lubricated joints, ligaments, and tendons are less likely to become severely damaged in injury. 


Common sports injuries

Muscle sprains and strains 

Tears of the ligaments that hold joints together

Tears of the tendons that support joints and permit moviement 

Dislocated joints

Fractured bones, including vertebrae


Prevention of injuries starts from the inside out. Bone health is very important which makes calcium and Vitamin D essential. Given the average American lives for 77 years, maintaining bone health throughout the lifespan should be a priority for all athletes. A calcium-rich diet and weight-bearing exercise is important for optimizing bone density, and since the primary source of Vitamin D is sunshine, time spent outdoors in daylight hours is very important. Vitamin D is produced endogenously when ultraviolet rays strike the skin and trigger D synthesis. Indoor athletes tend to be more D-deficient than others, hence the basketball player's diet calling for all Vitamin D rich foods, such as fatty fish, egg yolks, cheese, fortified juices, yogurts and cereals.

So how does one go about eating a well-balanced, Vitamin D fortified, calcium rich meal every 3 hours locally? For starters, take these suggestions down and ditch the car. Walking will ensure you get that über important exercise in. Carmo has a menu suited for all walks of life. The multi-cultural tropical based menu offers a plethora of vegetable, salad, and rice dishes with vegetarian/vegan friendly options. Protein can be had in the form of beans, tofu, ham, chicken, turkey breast, and fish. Good fats like avocado and cheeses decorate selections and diners can choose from quality grains like rice, rice noodles, and quinoa. Their breadless sandwich, The Rico, is insanely loaded with flavor and good to those on a gluten free path. An open-faced, breadless sandwich made of a grilled plantain patty topped with melted cheese, spicy smoked 'n' pulled pork, salsa fresca, avocado and a tangy sweet spicy sauce. Served with organic greens drizzled with mango vinaigrette.

Artz Bagelz recently opened a second location in the Arts District on Baronne between St. Joseph and Julia. Owners Kim and Art Zacharczyk first brought locally made handcrafted bagels to NOLA in August 2011 with their flagship Magazine Street location. Boiled then baked, the rounded discs of yeasted wheat dough yield about 48 grams of carbohydrates, enough to properly get your motor going. Pile on the protein with the Treme – Roast beef, provolone, red onion and horseradish sauce or build your own sandwich – one meat, one cheese, lettuce, tomato, and mayonnaise. Meats include turkey, roast beef, ham, and bacon, while American, Swiss, cheddar and provolone cheeses provide the calcium. Your choice of chips, potato salad, or coleslaw for the side, or if you're leaning towards a lighter sidecar, substitute a City Park salad or fruit cup.

Ba Chi Canteen, sister restaurant to Gretna's Tan Dinh takes the travel out of those desperately seeking Vietnamese. Bridge crossing fans of cuisine staples like pho and garlic butter wings were granted an Eastbank equivalent in early 2013, just in time to forget about the balance on their toll tags. The most talked about menu item is the Vietnamese version of a taco, the Baco: a folded bun topped with pickled carrots and daikon with your choice of stuffing: pork, beef, chicken or shrimp sauced up with honey ponzu, sweet chili, curry, or spicy cream. A homage to local fare, try a Baco stuffed with catfish or soft shell crab. Pan-Asian cuisine is one of those happy mediums for a person on a specific diet. If frontloading carbs, you have rice noodles, jasmine rice, sticky rice, or bun. On the hydrating angle, soups and specialty tapioca drinks. And we all know how easy it is to eat every three hours when mainlining some clutch Asian chow.  

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