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Student Athlete Nutrition – Fuel Your Fire 

For student athletes looking to improve their athletic or even academic performance, it’s incredibly important to focus on fueling your body with proper nutrients. Those attending universities often find it difficult to adequately fuel themselves, as dining halls don’t always have extensive options, and kitchen availability and capacity is often limited. This post offers student athlete nutrition tips for those who may need some guidance on how to keep themselves feeling energized and satiated throughout the day, allowing for peak performance in their sport and academics. Keep reading for 8 tips on how to fuel your fire as a student athlete!

8 Tips on How to Fuel your Fire as a Student Athlete

Focus on Consistency 

When addressing student athlete nutrition, the first thing that student athletes should focus on is getting into a routine that works for their goals and their schedule. Figure out when in your day hunger cues begin to strike or when you have time to go to the dining hall or eat a packed meal. Listening to hunger cues is great but you also need to eat when necessary. If you have a longer class or commitment and go too long without eating you may need to eat even if you are not hungry to avoid not getting enough nutrition throughout the day or getting overly hungry. By establishing a routine, eating can become an everyday priority and prevent stress about when and where you will have opportunities in the day to give your body the energy and nutrients it needs to function optimally. This helps you to engage in everyday activities. Regular meal timing also promotes regular digestion, which is beneficial for ideal absorption of nutrients and energy utilization. 

Avoid Skipping Meals

Busy schedules filled with classes, labs, practices, and competition might make it seem like there is no time during the day to spend on meals. However, the repercussions of skipping a meal are far greater than losing a little bit of time working on an assignment or a workout. If your brain and body don’t have enough calories, your ability to focus deteriorates, and can cause you to feel fatigued. This has physical and mental health detriments, and can impact school and athletic performance. Embracing nutrient dense snacking, convenience, and consistency allow you to get the energy you need while still powering through the day. 

The Power of Snacking

Going along with consistency and avoiding skipping meals, snacking can be a powerful tool to accomplish both of these things. The average student athlete schedule may not allow for three long meal times per day. By adding snacks – specifically a source of carbohydrates and protein – you can fuel your brain and body efficiently. One strategy for snacking might be to pack a snack for each class of the day, and eat it within the passing period of the day. For example, if you have three classes at 9:00-10:00 am, `10:15-11:15 am, and 12:00-1:00 pm, packing three snacks – one to eat during or between each of these classes – can prevent feelings of intense hunger or tiredness before your next meal. 

Student Athlete Nutrition Equation: Carbs + Protein = GAINS

Pairing macronutrients not only allows you to feel more satiated after a meal, it’s also optimal for building and maintaining muscle, something especially important for athletes. Eating something with a higher glycemic index (aka a form of carbohydrate) causes your insulin rates to increase. When your insulin is higher, the body enters an anabolic state or “storage mode.” By eating protein at the same time, this allows the body to efficiently use proteins from food in muscle protein synthesis. Below are some great snack ideas that offer easy and tasty options for co-ingestion of carbs and protein!

Embrace Individualization 

It’s important to remember that not everyone has the same needs and goals. Something that works for someone else might not work for you and vice versa. Comparison is the thief of joy – and even success in some cases – and nutrition is no exception. Finding out what makes your body feel good and allows you to fuel your fire is what’s important. 

Convenience Factor

Many college students find it difficult to properly fuel themselves due to limited access to full-service grocery stores or fully operating kitchens. This might mean that buying raw meats and fresh produce might not be ideal, as there may not be a way to conveniently and effectively prepare these things. A good workaround for this is to buy protein sources that don’t require a lot of prep or only need minimal cooking. Exmaples inclsuing pre-cooked chicken, deli meats, yogurt, beans, pre-marinated tofu, or even peanut butter. Dried or frozen fruit are also a great option for a source of vitamins and fiber. I you are unable to get consistent fruits in your diet or find that you don’t have the ability to store a lot of fresh produce in a mini fridge. Adding some frozen fruit, yogurt, and oats to a jar and allowing it to sit overnight creates a quick and nutrient dense breakfast option!

Don’t Forget to Hydrate

As the months grow colder, it can be difficult to remember to hydrate as your body may not be sweating and releasing as much water as it does in the warmer months. However, water is incredibly important year round, and is integral for transporting nutrients, removing waste, and hydrating your body’s tissues. Like the food you eat, the amount of water you need is specific to your athletic goals, your age, gender, age, and many other factors. The best and easiest way to assess your hydration is to look at urine color. Light yellow to nearly clear urine is the main sign that your body is well hydrated. If you have a favorite water bottle, fill it up and have it available! 

The Scoop on Supplements

If you find there are gaps within your diet, supplements may be an option you can explore. It’s important to do your research as supplements are not regulated by the FDA. Look closely at ingredient labels for protein powders, vitamins, and other supplements. Ensuring that they have a seal from a third-party testing organization (such as USP) shows that there were no unsafe ingredients found in them. If you’re looking to try supplements, discuss it with a registered dietitian to see if it is necessary or would be beneficial. Overall, nutrients from food should be the top priority and supplements should be just that – an addition to your diet. 

We hope this blog on student athlete nutrition offered you some tips on how to prioritize your nutrition. Below are some nutrient dense snack ideas for you or the busy student athlete in your life. 

Snack Ideas: Student Athlete Nutrition

  • Strawberry Banana Smoothie with Protein 
  • Dried or Frozen Edamame Pack with Fruit
  • Toast with Almond Butter and Blueberries
  • Naan, 1/2 bagel or English Muffin Pizza
  • Cheese Quesadilla (could add a meat/veggies)
  • Grilled Cheese on Sourdough Bread (could add a meat/veggies)
  • Greek Yogurt + Handful of Granola + 1/2 Banana
  • 1/2 Everything Bagel with an Egg
  • Frozen or Homemade Whole Grain Waffle or Pancakes with Berries or Bananas
  • Bowl of Chicken Soup + Oyster Crackers
  • Small Bowl of Pasta + Turkey Meatballs
  • Baked Potato with Shredded Cheese
  • Apple + Seed Butter Packet
  • Cheese or Tuna + Crackers + Grapes
  • Pretzels + Peanut Butter + Strawberries
  • Turkey + Bread + Cherry Tomatoes on a Skewer
  • 1/2 Raisin Bagel with Nut Butter
  • Hummus and Pita
  • Chocolate protein milk (it’s in the milk section now, Core Power or other brands!)
  • Cheese crisps with fruit 
  • Egg sandwich with arugula or baby spinach.
  • Trail mix plus fruit
  • Greek or Skyr yogurt plus granola and berries
  • A smoothie made with kefir or yogurt or a non-dairy smoothie made with soy milk plus frozen fruit. (If using low-protein milk like almond or oat, add a scoop of protein powder or a tablespoon of peanut butter).
  • Overnight oats. (Prep ahead with berries or sliced banana on top.)
  • Chia pudding with berries. (Prep ahead and grab and go.)
  • Banana bread plus peanut butter.
  • Whole-grain pretzels plus hummus and fruit
  • Baked potato with butter and smoked salmon
  • Pita chips and hummus and veggies
  • Hard-boiled eggs plus fruit and/or toast
  • Apple Nachos with Greek/Skyr yogurt or nut/seed butter for protein
  • Protein bar plus a piece of fruit (convenient when on the go)

Blog written by Sophie Callahan, Senior Dietetics Student at University of Vermont

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