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The Athlete Diet: 10 “Unpopular”, Good for You, Choices

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Nutrition is an insanely confusing minefield of bro science, half truths, and bad studies. Add all that to the fact that it’s just as easy to find a jacked and ripped Paleo athlete as it is to find a jacked and ripped vegan athlete, and it’s no wonder that we can wind up pretty confused as to what will and won’t derail all our hard work.

The good news is that there are probably zero foods that will derail your hard work when consumed in moderation. The better news is that because of their high activity levels, most athletes actually need the kind of high-calorie and high-carb foods that sedentary folk may want to limit.

Here are some foods that could be more beneficial than you thought.

1. Sodium

The blanket recommendation to limit salt doesn’t always apply to athletes, especially those sweating a lot, exercising several hours a day, and drinking substantial amounts of water. These athletes need to balance their sodium levels to maintain fluid balance, blood pressure, and muscle and neuron function. So if you find yourself surrounded in a puddle of sweat after your workout, then it may be beneficial to embrace the salt shaker.

Remember, that adding more sodium shouldn’t come in the form of highly-processed, sodium-rich meals, but sodium is a super important electrolyte that helps to hydrate.So control your intake by using a shaker instead of relying on what manufacturers add.

2. Popcorn

A cup of air popped popcorn has just 106 calories, over 3 grams of protein and fiber, 21 grams of carbs and next to no fat. There’s also 4 percent of your daily iron, 8 percent of your magnesium, and several B-vitamins. Sprinkle it with some seasoning and it can be a great, low-calorie snack for any athlete.

3. White Potatoes

Why sweet potatoes suddenly became the only acceptable kind of potato we’ll never know. Sure, sweet potatoes have more Vitamin A, but regular white potatoes have about the same amount of fiber and they’re considerably higher in many important vitamins and minerals.

Foods like potatoes are often demonized because of a single nutrient—in this case, starchy carbs. As an athlete, you may benefit from the carbs. A medium-sized potato also gives you 4 grams of fiber if you keep the peel on, 4 grams of protein, almost double the potassium of a banana, and substantial amounts of B and C vitamins, magnesium, phosphorus, iron, copper.”

4. Egg yolks

Eggs are fantastic for athletes, yolks and all. Yolks are a great source of Vitamins A, B1, B6, B12, D, folate, antioxidants, and choline, which maintains nerve and cell health.

Dietary cholesterol is not a major determinant of blood cholesterol and it’s important for hormone production, including testosterone. Speaking of which, eggs are a great for zinc and pretty good for magnesium, which are also linked to healthy T levels. Cooking them slowly preserves more benefits than flash frying.

5. White rice

Look, athletes need carbohydrates — often two, three, or four more times more than the amount of protein they consume in grams. Even when people acknowledge this, they’ll usually assume brown rice is the only acceptable form of the grain.

It’s not, and white rice is hardly an “empty carb.” it provides some magnesium, selenium, iron, and a few B-vitamins, and while it’s lower in some nutrients (like potassium and calcium) than brown rice, the practical difference per serving is minimal and white rice, due to it being lower in fiber and phytic acid, is considerably easier to digest for many people. That’s why you feel hungry so quickly after eating sushi!

6. Whole milk

Whole milk and the delicious, delicious fat that comes with it have been demonized ever since the anti-fat crusades of the 1980s convinced us that eating fat will make us fat and cause heart disease and diabetes. Psshhh!

Recent evidence has suggested that full fat milk may actually reduce the risk of diabetes, perhaps by lowering its glycemic index, and the same may go for the onset of heart disease. And it makes protein shakes taste so much better.

7. Juice

An athlete aiming for several thousand calories a day should consider how juice can fit into their meal plan. There’s a lot of negative chatter around calorie-density and lack of fiber compared to eating a whole fruit. For an athlete, the calorie density is desired, juice offers much-needed hydration, and antioxidants in options like pomegranate juice, which contains them in higher levels than in red wine and green tea, can prove anti-inflammatory.

8. Coffee

Black coffee, contrary to popular belief, has been linked to a huge variety of benefits including potentially lower risks of some cancers, neurodegenerative diseases, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases. In particular, the antioxidants in coffee may protect against some age-related diseases.

Coffee also naturally boosts workout performance, not just in power and strength but also endurance and even cognition by facilitating mechanisms that improve memory, learning, and reaction time.

9. Bread

We wouldn’t recommend it as a meal unto itself, but if you want to slide your protein and veggies between a couple of slices of bread now and then, we say have at it. Two slices of whole wheat bread provides about 10 percent of your daily iron, 4 percent of your calcium and magnesium, a slew of B-vitamins, 4 grams of fiber and over 7 grams of protein.

Gluten, despite the health scares, is a great source of protein and essential amino acids for people without sensitivities or allergies to it, meaning that bread provides more protein per serving than many other sources of carbs.

10. Beer

Now we’re not recommending you drink yourself into oblivion  — it’s not good for your testosterone or your growth hormone — but beer always gets left out of those lists of “healthy” alcoholic beverages.

Like wine, moderate beer consumption has been associated with decreased incidences of cardiovascular disease, hypertension, diabetes, and certain types of cancer, mostly because of the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. A 2013 study even suggested that beer may reduce the risk of developing kidney stones by 41 percent, while soda and punch increased the risk. Bonus: it contains more protein and B-vitamins than wine…nutrients that are especially important for athletes.

As is always the case, moderation is key with all of these foods. But if they fit in to your calorie, macronutrient, and micronutrient requirements, there’s probably no reason to completely avoid these “forbidden” foods.