The Meat & Potatoes of Sports Nutrition

Meat

Many athletes believe meat is unhealthful because it is cholesterol-rich. Wrong. The amount of cholesterol in beef is similar to that in chicken and fish. Cholesterol is part of cell walls; all animal proteins contain a similar amount (85-95 mg cholesterol/four ounces; target intake <300 mg/day).

  • The fat in meat, not the meat itself, is the culprit when it comes to heart disease. Choose lean beef, pork and lamb for your heart-healthy sports diet. Buy organic, if desired.
  • Red meats offer two minerals that are important for athletes: iron (prevents anemia, needless fatigue) and zinc (helps heal injuries). While many protein supplements are fortified with iron and zinc, these minerals tend to be better absorbed from animal foods.
  • Deli roast beef offers 24 grams protein per three ounces--the same as many protein bars or an average sandwich.

More: Turn 5 Main Ingredients Into 25 Dinners

Potatoes

Potatoes are an excellent source of carbohydrates. Potatoes (and all carbs) are not fattening; excess calories are fattening. Consistently overeating French fries or butter-filled baked potatoes can, indeed, be fattening, but so can overeating any food, even sport drinks and protein shakes.

  • A large (10 oz. when raw) restaurant-size potato can fuel your muscles with about 200 carbohydrate-rich calories ... as can 200 calories of a candy-like energy bar. But the carbs in many sports supplements--glucose, fructose, rice syrup and other sweeteners--offer no nutritional value (that is, unless the manufacturers add some vitamins to make the product appear more nutritious).
  • Potatoes, in comparison, are nutrient-rich, a natural source of potassium and vitamin C. Hence, a pre-baked (or microwave) pre- or post-exercise potato offers nutritional advantages over an engineered energy bar. When eaten naked, potatoes contain no fat, cholesterol or sodium--and they even come in an edible, fiber-rich wrapper!
  • To make a plain, baked potato more "exciting," top it with these effortless protein ideas: cottage cheese, canned bake beans, and chili. Or drizzle a little heart-healthy olive oil on top with a sprinkling of oregano.

For a family favorite, make oven fries. Slice raw potatoes into strips, drizzle with olive or canola oil, mix to coat evenly; spread on a baking sheet, cook at 425 for 20 to 35 minutes (depending on the thickness of the "fries"). For more recipes, visit www.healthypotato.com!

The Bottom Line

By enjoying potatoes or other natural carbs as the foundation of each meal, and meat/protein as the accompaniment, you'll get the right balance of carbs and protein that enhances sports performance. Here are some examples of easy carb-protein combinations of "real foods." Note: protein quickly adds up. Most athletes need to focus on getting enough carbs ... More potatoes, please!

  Carb (gm) Protein (gm)
Target daily intake (150 lb athlete) 450-750+ 75-120
2 cups Wheaties with 1 cup milk 60 14
PB & J Sandwich 60 16
1 med zapped potato + 1/2 c cot. cheese 55 20
2 cups Spaghetti + meat (2 oz) sauce 102 30
Total 277 80

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