How Young Athletes Can Begin their Healthy Eating Journey
Over the past year, we've written about various components that contribute to a healthy diet, whether it be protein, carbohydrate or vegetables, or questioning the necessity of supplements. But, for those wanting to overhaul their eating patterns knowing where to begin can be the toughest part. Today, we go back to basics with a beginners guide to healthy eating, sans gimmicks and pseudo-science.
Get to Know the 5 Food Groups
The best, and most basic of places to begin is by familiarising yourself with the 5 food groups – grains, meat/poultry/fish, dairy, fruit, and vegetables. Put simply, healthy eating comes down to eating the right quantity from each food group through a variety of sources. This ensures you'll not only achieve daily vitamin and mineral needs but also meet protein, carbohydrate and fat targets – and all without the unnecessary pain of recording in a nutrition calculator or app!
A good place to begin is the government's Eat For Health website where you can find information on each of the food groups, their serve sizes and the number of serves to aim for daily.
Building a Healthy Plate
It's all well and good to understand the food groups, but how can we put this into practice? This is where the healthy plate model comes in. A simple way to think of constructing a healthy meal is to consider the proportion of the plate composed of carbohydrate foods, protein foods and vegetables. As a general rule your plate should look something like this:
- ¼ lean protein from meat, fish, poultry, eggs, tofu or low-fat cheese
- ¼ carbohydrate from grain foods, or starchy vegetables such as potato
- ½ vegetables in a variety of colours
Now, while it is easy to see this play out when considering a "traditional" meat and veg scenario, it can also be applied to mixed dishes. For instance, when making a stir fry a greater emphasis should be placed on vegetables vs. rice/noodles or protein, or if having a pasta dish consider adding vegetables to the sauce and having a side of salad or steamed vegetables.
Meet Veggie Targets and You're Half-Way There
Remember how in the healthy plate model vegetables took up the majority of the plate? This is because vegetables are a rich source of vitamins and minerals needed for good health (not to mention athletic performance), and are also heavily associated with better long-term health and reduced risk of lifestyle diseases such as diabetes or heart disease.
The truth is, the most basic way the majority of people could drastically improve their diets and health is simply by focusing on achieving the 5-6 serves of vegetables recommended by the dietary guidelines. However, only 7% of Australians reach this target, and meanwhile, research indicates more is, in fact, better with some recommendations indicating 10 serves per day for optimal health.
In modern society, typical snack foods are highly processed, and high in sugar, fat and salt. Perhaps this is why snacking behaviour is associated with obesity and poor health? However, it doesn't have to be this way, and choosing snacks based on the food groups can contribute to meeting nutrient requirements for the day. Examples include:
- Fruit, or fruit tinned in juice
- Yoghurt, or cheese with whole-grain crackers
- Veggie sticks and dip such as humous
- Tinned tuna and whole-grain crackers
By switching biscuits, bars, chocolate and chips, for whole foods, snacking opportunities can be utilised to their full potential and contribute to good health.
The road to healthy eating can be a bumpy one, but the above tips can set you well on your way. As with any change, there's no need to tackle these all at once, rather focus on making small, achievable goals. By achieving these dietary basics, we set our athletes up with a good foundation where we can further tweak and build on the diet to enhance performance.