By: Heidi Smith – RD Sport Dietitian
If you are a faithful reader of Hometown Hockey you may have noticed a trend toward lower fat options in the recipes and food ideas. Most athletes should not follow a low fat diet but rather choose the type and timing of fats wisely.
Fat is a very important nutrient in every athlete’s diet. Dietary fat keeps us feeling full between meals and provides an important source of essential fatty acids along with vitamins A, D, E and K. These nutrients are important for healthy bone and muscle development as well as helping to speed recovery from exercise. Many people confuse body fat with dietary fat. Body fat comes from eating more calories than you burn. Dietary fat is just one source of calories along with carbohydrates, protein and alcohol. Eating fat will not automatically make you fat. It is simply a concentrated source of energy. Fat has twice the amount of calories per gram of carbs or protein. In fact, many young athletes can benefit from eating more fat in their diet just to get enough calories to balance the high energy demands of their workouts. Therefore, athletes looking to maintain or gain weight can sneak in extra calories by choosing more healthy fats in their diet.
Fats that are liquid at room temperature (ie: olive oil, canola oil, flax oil, fish oil) are “unsaturated”. These types of fats are healthier for your heart and tend to help to reduce inflammation by thinning the blood and improving circulation. Inflammation is another word for the heat and swelling that occurs when cells are damaged. You will have inflammation in your muscles after every hard workout. The foods you choose can INFLAME or COOL the inflammation. Therefore, healthy fats can help you recover from the demands of exercise in addition to many other health benefits of reduced inflammation.
Unfortunately this doesn’t mean you should eat more bacon or processed meats as they contain nitrates and unhealthy fats called Saturated Fats. Saturated fats fit in the category of foods that can “Inflame”. They can lead to more inflammation when eaten in large quantities especially alongside other processed and sugary foods. That doesn’t mean you have to cut out these foods completely – it’s just important to keep a tab on the frequency you rely on convenience foods each week. For example if you have bacon at breakfast, try to have egg, tuna or home cooked meat at lunch and dinner. Aim to cook and prepare more whole foods from home and eat out less. Eating at home also makes it easier to get more fruits and vegetables, which also happen to have powerful anti-inflammatory properties. It takes more pre-planning but the pay-off can be huge in the areas of energy, nutrients, better digestion, healthier heart and quicker recovery from inflammation.
Sources of saturated fats include: processed foods such as crackers, store-bought muffins/cookies, donuts, breaded foods, fried foods, butter and processed meats such as bacon, sausage, ham, deli meat, bologna, hot dogs, pepperoni and pepperettes. Remember, you don’t have to eliminate these foods from your diet. Focus on choosing more healthy fats, fruits and veggies to balance your intake of saturated fats.
In the two hours before exercise you want quick digestion. All fats are slow to digest so even healthy fats such as nuts should be limited right before exercise to avoid feeling over-full. Look for meals with less than 25g of fat in the two hours before exercise. Experiment and see how much fat you can digest before a workout.
Homemade Baked Fish Fingers and Fries
Serves 4-6. Due to the oven baking, this a perfect light meal 2-4 hours before a game. Usually French fries are too slow to digest for a pre-game meal, but these fries can be made much lower in fat than commercial french fries. They take almost the same time to cook as the fish fingers so they are a good side dish to prepare.
Per serving: 275 cal, 35g pro, 9g carb, 1g Fibre, 10g Fat, 2g Sat fat, 350mg Sodium.
Homemade Oven Fries
3-4 medium potatoes (yellow, red, yams or a mix)
1-2 Tbs olive or canola oil (2 tsp per potato)
Salt to taste
Cut potatoes into strips or slices. Put in a medium bowl with 1-2 Tbs olive oil. Toss to coat. Spread out on a non-stick cookie sheet or baking stone. Use two sheets if needed. Season with salt to taste (about 1/8tsp per potato). Bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes. Use a spatula to flip at the halfway mark. Put the potatoes in first while you are breading the fish.
Per serving: 178 cal, 3g pro, 30g carb, 3g fibre, 5g fat, 0g sat fat, 225mg sodium
Heidi Smith is a Sport Dietitian and Head of Nutrition at the Health and Performance Centre at the University of Guelph. She has worked alongside some of the world's top hockey players including NHL, National, Olympic, Junior, and Rep. She is the author of the practical sport nutrition handbook entitled "Nutrition for the Long Run". Heidi is also a mother of three rep hockey players and understands the demands faced by today's sport focused families.