Simple Swaps to Upgrade Your Athlete’s Diet


March is National Nutrition Month, making it a perfect time to focus on healthy eating habits in young athletes. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ 2017 campaign theme is “Put Your Best Fork Forward,” encouraging us all to set small goals for establishing healthy habits for life.

When you focus on making small changes little by little, rather than changing everything all at once, those changes are more likely to last a lifetime. Whether your focus is trying to get your child to eat more vegetables or less junk food, or trying to get them to eat a wider variety of healthful foods, start small and work up from there.

Below is a list of small changes that can have a big impact. Start with one at a time, and once that becomes a habit, work on another change.

1. Swap out white or refined grains for whole grains:

  • White bread swap = whole-wheat bread

  • White pasta swap = whole-wheat pasta

  • White rice swap = brown rice or quinoa

  • White bagel swap = whole-wheat bagel

  • English muffin swap = whole-wheat English muffin

  • Flour tortillas swap = whole-wheat or corn tortillas

  • Sugary cereal swap = whole-grain cereal or low sugar oatmeal

2. Swap out fatty or fried meats for lean proteins:

  • Fried chicken swap = grilled or baked boneless skinless chicken breast

  • Chicken nuggets swap = make your own homemade baked chicken nuggets

  • Fried fish or fish sticks swap = grilled, baked or broiled salmon

  • Hamburger swap = 93% lean ground beef, turkey or black bean/veggie burger

  • Beef swap = loin or sirloin steak, fat trimmed, grilled, baked or broiled

  • Ham/pork swap = pork tenderloin, trimmed, and baked or grilled

  • Other fantastic proteins include beans/lentils, tofu/tempeh, milk, Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, eggs, nuts, and nut butters

3. Add fruit to breakfast:

  • Add sliced bananas or strawberries to a bowl of whole-grain cereal

  • Add dried cranberries, raisins, fresh berries or applesauce to oatmeal

  • Try a Greek yogurt parfait with fruit and granola

4. Try a green smoothie for breakfast or snack:

  • 1c frozen pineapple, ½ banana, 1c Greek yogurt, 1c spinach, splash of milk to blend

5. Hydrate with water and naturally unsweetened beverages. Instead of soda, fruit juice, sweet tea, lemonade, punch or other sugary beverages, stick with:

  • Water

  • Sparkling water

  • Infused water

  • Herbal tea/plain black or green tea

  • Low-fat milk or milk alternative

6. Enjoy family meals at home as often as you can

7. Try one new recipe each week

8. Pack healthy snacks in the car, backpack, locker, etc., for busy days

9. Swap out butter for olive oil in your cooking

10. Try avocado or guacamole on sandwiches instead of mayonnaise

11. Swap out chips and other processed snack foods for healthier alternatives:

  • Nuts

  • Trail mix

  • Sweet potato, beet, apple or kale chips

  • Sliced veggies with hummus

  • Roasted dried chickpeas

  • Whole-wheat crackers with guacamole

  • Brown rice cakes with peanut or almond butter

  • Apple slices or banana with nut butter

  • “Ants on a log” – celery sticks with peanut butter and raisins

  • Greek yogurt with fruit or granola

  • Homemade energy bar instead of sweets or store-bought granola bars

12. Plan “Meatless Monday” or “Fish Friday” meals at home

Noel Williams, MS, RD, CSSD, LD is a Performance Dietitian at Children’s HealthSM Andrews Institute Sports Performance Powered By EXOS. She earned both her BS in Nutrition and Dietetics and her MS in Exercise Physiology and Sports Nutrition from Montana State University. She conducted her Master’s research on cardiovascular and metabolic demands of Rocky Mountain Elk Hunting. Noel is a Board Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics, and has taught workshops on developing positive eating behaviors in children in partnership with Montana Team Nutrition. She is also a part of the following professional organizations:

•Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics

•Texas Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics

•Sports, Cardiovascular, and Wellness Nutrition Dietetic Practice Group (SCAN)

•American College of Sports Medicine

Call: 469-303-3000

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