3 Things Pro Athletes Know About Nutrition (and You Should Too)

by Mike Minnis
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3 Things Pro Athletes Know About Nutrition (and You Should Too)

As an NFL Strength Coach and Performance Nutritionist for some of the top names in football, Mike Minnis, MS, RD, CSCS knows a lot about using nutrition to your advantage. Here he shares a few tips on how to elevate your nutrition game like a pro athlete, so that you can crush your own health and fitness goals.

PRO TIP #1:
UNDERSTAND THE IMPORTANCE OF ENERGY BALANCE

When it comes to nutrition, there are two things that are helpful to think about — what you should be eating and how much you need to eat to support the goal you’re trying to achieve.

For example, if your primary goal is to lose weight, and you’re eating healthfully (think nutritious, whole foods), but you’re consistently eating far above your daily calorie target, you will still gain weight. You need a balance.

Energy balance is highly individualized and based on a number of factors, including:

  • Age
  • Weight
  • Muscle Mass
  • Movement/Exercise
  • Macronutrient Composition of Diet

Regardless of your primary goal, your priority should be understanding the number of calories you need to consume on a daily basis and balancing that with nourishing foods that optimize your overall nutritional needs.

Tracking food and nutrient intake are key for many people to make progress toward their goals because it gives them a sense of their energy balance. Calorie goals like what you get in the MyFitnessPal app estimate how many calories you burn in one day, and how much to eat to reach your goal. You’ll learn how much to eat to support your goals, and how different foods affect your progress. And it’s not just all about calories, either. Certain nutrients in foods impact how much you eat overall, like protein and fiber.

PRO TIP #2:
EAT AN ADEQUATE AMOUNT OF PROTEIN AT THE RIGHT TIME

Protein is one of the most important macronutrients. In the context of athletic performance, adequate protein intake is imperative for muscle recovery and adaptation from training. It’s hard to argue against the correlation of lean body mass as it relates to strength, power, and stability in most sports—and in life in general.

The most bioavailable forms of protein (i.e. those easily absorbed and used by your body) tend to come from animal sources, such as chicken, fish, beef, pork, turkey, eggs, dairy, and whey. There are plant sources such as tofu and beans, but it may require a bit more forethought to attain your protein goals if you are vegetarian or vegan.

The most vital component of daily protein intake is the TOTAL amount you consume daily. This is more critical than any other aspects of protein intake, such as timing and dosing per meal. You should aim to consume ~0.8-1.0g/lb. of protein per day if you’re concerned with building muscle, athletic performance, and recovery from exercise.

  • Example: A 150 lb. athlete would need to consume 120-150g of protein per day

Once you have the total protein covered, you can move to optimal timing. Ideally, we would want our high-protein meals consumed every 4-6 hours though the day. From a per-meal amount standpoint, a good target is 0.15-0.20 g/lb./meal. This optimizes the amount of protein that goes toward building muscle rather than being used for energy.

  • Example: A 150 lb. athlete would need to consume ~22-30g of protein per meal throughout the day

PRO TIP #3:
GET YOUR DAILY FIBER FROM A DIVERSE RANGE OF FOODS

You’ve probably heard the terms “gut health” or “microbiome” get thrown around, especially over the last few years. The microbiome is composed of communities of bacteria that help your body break down and absorb nutrients, produce vitamins and amino acids, and prevent infection by viruses and bad bacteria.

From a nutrition standpoint, one of the best ways to enhance gut health is to consume enough diverse fibers across a range of different foods. That’s because fiber acts as “prebiotics”, feeding the good bacteria (aka “probiotics”) in your system so that they can flourish and successfully carry out their functions.

Calculating your fiber needs is relatively simple. 14g/1,000 calories consumed is a great goal. This is effective as it keeps it relative to the number of calories you are consuming in a day. So, for example, if you are consuming 3,000 calories per day, you would try to consume 42g fiber.

To do this, you would most definitely need to focus on the quality of your food in addition to the quantity by consuming whole, non-processed, high-fiber foods like the following:

  • Almonds
  • Apples
  • Avocado
  • Beans
  • Berries
  • Broccoli
  • Chia Seeds
  • Oats
  • Peas
  • Potatoes (with skin)
  • Whole Grains

Although this is not a cumulative list, the common denominator of all these foods is that they are considered whole foods. This is why fiber is also a great representation of diet quality. If you already try to incorporate at least one of those foods per meal, your diet quality is pretty good. If you aren’t hitting your fiber goal each day, you may want to improve the quality of your diet.

When increasing your fiber intake, start slow, by a couple grams per day, unless you want to spend all day on the toilet! Starting slow also makes it more manageable to make small changes to your diet that incorporate high-fiber foods. So, pick a food you like that’s high in fiber (you can look it up in the MyFitnessPal app) and have it as a snack or part of your meal each day.

What this looks like in the numbers game is to break your fiber goal down by meal. First, strive for at least 3g fiber per meal and see if you can hit it. Work your way up by finding more and more foods that add fiber to your diet. At minimum, try setting a baseline of 5g of fiber per meal, but aim higher than that to meet your overall goal.

Ready to take the next step? Unlock MyFitnessPal Premium to access custom goal settings, quick-log recipes, and guided plans from a registered dietitian. Premium users are 65% more likely to reach their weight loss goals!

About the Author

Mike Minnis

Mike Minnis has been a sports performance professional since 2015, serving in nutrition and strength & conditioning roles in both the collegiate and professional setting.

In his role, Minnis plans and manages the execution of day-to-day performance nutrition initiatives, administers body composition analysis, and evaluates data to enhance performance and recovery. Additionally, Minnis assists with development and implementation of the strength and conditioning program.

A native of Bucklin, KS, Minnis earned a bachelor’s degree in dietetics and a master’s degree in human nutrition and exercise science from Kansas State University in 2013 and 2015, respectively. He originally attended the University of Kansas, where he received an undergraduate degree in business information systems in 2011.

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