When I met my husband, we were triathletes. We trained together and ate together. We trained and ate . . . a lot. Both in frequency and amount. We did our best to eat and drink what we thought ‘healthy.’ But at that time, we weren’t thinking as critically as we do now about real food and its sources.
Shiny packaged bars, squishy packets of instant glucose and colorful bottles of electrolyte drinks complemented our mostly well-balanced, mostly real food diet. Or so we thought.
A lot has changed since then. Over 15 years, our diet has evolved into taking a truly whole food, traditional approach. And in terms of recreation, these days (years) you could more accurately call us “quintathletes.” The “quint,” of course, referring to our five children. They are each a sport in and of themselves. Some days certain ‘sports’ are more challenging than others!
Thus, with an athletic background, a love of recreation and now seven mouths to feed, I’ve done a lot of rethinking about sports nutrition. I’ve concluded that for the recreational athlete, it is possible to fuel, hydrate, refuel and rehydrate using real, unprocessed foods and drinks.
My Eyes Were Opened
I was a new sports parent a few years ago and something really startled me. Almost every time our children had practice, they were offered a highly-processed, sugar-laden snack for refueling. I allowed our children to enjoy it, encouraged them to be gracious, and let them be ‘dietarily normal’ alongside their teammates. But after a few days I realized: this wasn’t just a one-day treat. This was something we were going to face most days at most sports activities. My eyes (and mind) were opened.
My children’s eyes were equally opened when they noticed a couple kids ‘needing’ a whole quart of packaged sports drink after competing in one sprint-distance swim race. “Don’t we need that too, Mom?”
From my athletic past, I knew that for recreational athletes, electrolyte replacement drinks are really not needed until the 60 to 90 minute mark of continuous exercise (WebMD explains). How were we going to deal with this? I wondered whether we were the only parents with this concern . . .
I began asking myself: Why is it that we have come to know colorful bottles of electrolyte drinks as a must-have for any organized recreational event (no matter the length)? Why is it that snacks provided for teams are oftentimes very low on the nutrient-density scale? Why does the snack counter at a game or a meet often provide chips, candy, soda and donuts over, say, apples, bananas and trail mix?!
(My heart feels a deep sense of gratitude toward those who do bring healthier items for the team! Thank you!)
In general, all processed, prepackaged items are easy, portable, able to be preserved for a long time and well-advertised. In fact, they are marketed so well that we don’t question whether there’s another option — or question whether they’re healthy.
Sadly, processed foods like these — and those targeted specifically to sports and athletes — are consumed in high volumes. Advertisers tell us we ‘need’ these popular items in order to be well-nourished, successful athletes.
Here’s what I think: In the face of physical exertion, our bodies are in even greater need of nutrient-rich foods. And we all know that rich, real nutrients come from whole food.
What Exercise Can Teach Us
Sports and outdoor recreation are opportunities to teach healthy competition and exercise enjoyment. We learn so much through it all. It takes courage to brave a difficult hiking trail. It requires perseverance to complete a run. It causes humility to finish last in a swim race: dead last! It demands communication to pass a soccer ball. It bids diligent observation to learn to kayak. It necessitates patience to perform well with others when abilities diverge.
And, sports and recreation also reveal the blessing of real food and how it fits the bill for our dietary needs.
The good news is: Real food sports nutrition starts right in our own kitchens. All it takes is a bit of preparation, a little knowledge and some culinary fun to discover that real food can adequately fuel us.
Introducing our children to the joys of recreation, and the health benefits of real food, is a lasting gift.
I am not a Registered (Sports) Dietician, so I can make no claims about specific sports and their respective dietary needs, especially at a highly competitive level. I’m simply encouraging recreational athletes with a real food bent, to rethink ‘necessary products,’ their ingredients and the sources of those ingredients, to be used during sports and recreation.
Have you ever questioned the real food factor amidst organized sports and recreational fun? Do you find certain sports or outdoor activities to be more conducive to a real food lifestyle?
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