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Priority Health Wellness Blog

31 pieces of advice for busy athletes

by Lisa McDowell / Team Sports Nutritionist, Detroit Red Wings

Bite-sized sports nutrition tips

With elite athletes, I never have to convince them that nutrition is important for optimal performance. Instead, the challenge is often the limited amount of time I have to share information with them. So when I do consult with athletes, I try to make sure the following basics are well covered first:

  • Never skip meals - use each meal as an opportunity to get better.
  • Pay attention to urine color for optimal hydration.
  • Make sure sleep is never short-changed.
  • Focus on recovery to allow better training tomorrow.
  • Make each meal as colorful as possible with varied fruits and vegetables.
  • Choose foods that help keep your blood sugar stable. This helps your body optimize its use of fat for fuel, which helps preserve your muscle's glycogen.
  • Use supplements only to correct a deficiency and make sure they are NSF certified for sport.
  • Plan ahead for travel nutrition to prevent gaps when you are on the road.

When time allows, I dive deeper into health topics that can benefit all athletes. In honor of the 31 days of March, here are my top 31 tips I offer busy athletes. 

  1. Eat more plants! Plants are loaded with disease-fighting nutrients. When you eat food that was alive, you feel alive. Avoid food that has been processed. Feel the difference a salad can have on your energy levels. Shop only the outer perimeter of your grocery store for healthy choices. Remember, half your plate should be fruits and veggies.
  2. Pay attention to how much water you are drinking. For every pound you lose from sweat during exercise, you need to drink 16-24 ounces of fluid. Some of our Red Wing players shed more than 10 pounds of sweat in one hour!
  3. Oatmeal helps fuel our team. Did you know it also helps lower your cholesterol and blood sugar? To make oatmeal a powerhouse meal - add blueberries, walnuts, chia seeds and cinnamon. The fiber found in oatmeal helps you maintain a steady blood sugar for fueling your game.
  4. You can't beat beets! Our team drinks beet juice as a great source of nitrates, helping relax the arteries, which then deliver more oxygen to working muscles by improving blood flow. Beets decrease fatigue, improve stamina and lower blood pressure.
  5. One of our favorite 'go-to' methods for pain relief after exercise is a warm bath with Epsom salts. Epsom salts contain magnesium, which help you feel relaxed and ready for sleep. Add one cup of Epsom salt to a warm bath for a relaxing night.
  6. Read food labels! Avoid foods with processed ingredients, artificial colors and flavors, added sugar and hydrogenated fats. Healthy foods like fresh fruits and vegetables don't need labels. A tomato is simply a tomato (no matter how you pronounce it)!
  7. Avoid added sugar in your diet. The American Heart Association recommends no more than 25 grams of added sugar per day for adults, and 12 grams for children. Read labels and avoid products with added sugar. One can of pop has 10 teaspoons of sugar, or 40 grams, which is nearly twice the daily amount recommended for adults, and nearly four times recommended for children.
  8. Did you know there are 50 different names for sugar?


50 names for sugar


1. Barley malt 19. Ethyl maltol 37. Maple syrup
2. Beet sugar 20. Fructose 38. Molasses
3. Brown sugar 21. Fruit juice 39. Muscovado sugar
4. Buttered syrup 22. Fruit juice concentrate 40. Panocha
5. Cane juice crystals 23. Galactose 41. Raw sugar
6. Cane sugar 24. Glucose 42. Refiner's syrup
7. Caramel 25. Glucose solids 43. Rice syrup
8. Corn syrup 26. Golden sugar 44. Sorbitol
9. Corn syrup solids 27. Golden syrup 45. Sorghum syrup
10. Confectioner's sugar 28. Grape sugar 46. Sucrose
11. Carob syrup 29. High-fructose corn syrup 47. Sugar
12. Castor sugar 30. Honey 48. Treacle
13. Date sugar 31. Icing sugar 49. Turbinado sugar
14. Demerara sugar 32. Invert sugar 50. Yello sugar
15. Dextran 33. Lactose  
16. Dectrose 34. Maltodextrin  
17. Diastatic malt 35. Malt syrup  
18. Diatase 36. Malt syrup  


  1. More than 80% of American adults do not meet their daily Vitamin D requirements. Low Vitamin D is linked to higher incidences of illness, injuries, stress fractures and poor performance. Talk with your physician about your own risk of Vitamin D deficiency.
  2. The best things in life make you sweaty. Make sure to get your heart pumping for at least 30 minutes every day. Find joy in a long walk or a pick-up game of basketball. If you love the activity, you are more likely to make it a routine.
  3. Sleep is an athlete's secret weapon. We all need at least 8-10 hours of sleep each night to help us restore and repair. Rest and recovery is the foundation for being able to perform at your best.
  4. Take great care of your teeth. Make sure to brush and floss twice a day to prevent gum disease. Inflammation of the gums can be a contributor to heart disease. See your dentist regularly.
  5. You can reduce inflammation in your body by getting enough sleep, avoiding too much sun and steering clear of processed foods and smoking. Also, choose gentle recovery habits like yoga, cold showers, warm tea, soft music, foam rollers, saunas, soaks and laughter with friends. Foods that fight inflammation include ginger, tart cherries, fatty fish, apple cider vinegar, pineapples, avocados, walnuts, turmeric, dark leafy greens, peppers, garlic and berries.
  6. Take great care of your belly by eating miso soup, kimchi, sauerkraut, kombucha tea, kefir and Greek yogurt. These probiotics enhance our immune system, help prevent colds and flu and may reduce anxiety and ease the symptoms of traveler's diarrhea.
  7. For adult athletes, be cautious when drinking alcohol. Alcohol hurts recovery by compromising sleep and impairing motor skills, reaction time, heart rate and muscle repair.
  8. All snack bars are not created equally. Choose bars that have no added sugar and plenty of protein and fiber.
  9. Edamame is a great portable snack, providing 25 grams of protein and 12 grams of fiber in just one-and-a-half cups. This is the perfect on-the-go snack. Simply buy it frozen, let it thaw in your bag and enjoy!
  10. Add walnuts, chia seeds and ground flax seeds to your diet. These foods contain Omega-3 fatty acids which decrease inflammation and help protect your brain. Fish like wild Alaskan salmon, sardines, trout and mackerel are also good sources of Omega-3 fatty acids.
  11. Processed meats like bacon, salami and bologna have recently been classified as a known cancer-causing food by the World Health Organization. So choose protein sources that are not processed to decrease your risk of colorectal cancer.
  12. Eating breakfast helps to break the fast. Make sure to include fruit and veggies to increase the colors! Eating breakfast reduces levels of the stress hormone, cortisol. Cortisol breaks down muscle stores, so be sure to start your day with a great breakfast.
  13. When you feel stressed, practice the pause. When in doubt, pause. When angry, pause. When tired, pause. When stressed, pause. And when you pause, breathe. This simple practice can slow your heart rate and relieve stress.
  14. Injuries are a part of sports. Proper nutrition can support and speed recovery. Make sure you have plenty of colorful fruits and vegetables to help you heal. Vitamins and minerals in food provide the proper foundation for healing.
  15. Our team drinks tart cherry juice because it helps decrease muscle damage and inflammation, and improves recovery. Tart cherry juice also helps those who suffer from arthritis and gout due to its anti-inflammatory properties. Tart cherries also contain a natural form of melatonin, which can help with sleep.
  16. Try some of these healthy substitutions in your diet: swap mayo for avocado, oil for applesauce in baking, breadcrumbs for oatmeal, salad dressing for hummus and sugar for date puree. Try substituting chickpea pasta into your favorite pasta recipe for double the protein and four times the amount of fiber compared to wheat pasta.
  17. Every time you eat is an opportunity to nourish your body and prevent disease. Choose whole grains, colorful fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, mono-unsaturated fats and lots of water!

  1. Daily exercise improves blood flow to the brain, which increases memory and retention of new information, brain tissue volume and helps with problem-solving skills by improving attention, coping and concentration. It also helps reduce stress, anxiety and depression.
  2. Veggies have protein, too! Incorporate them into your meals to amp up your meatless protein intake. Some of our favorite protein-packed veggies include peas, dried beans, spinach, artichokes, asparagus, broccoli, beets and Brussel sprouts.
  3. Eliminate sugar-sweetened beverages in your diet. These add empty calories and minimal nutrition. Let water be your beverage of choice. Try infusing water with herbs like mint and basil, fruits such as strawberries, watermelon and lemon or even veggies like cucumber for a refreshing hint of flavor.
  4. Enjoy a sweet treat by choosing dark chocolate or cacao nibs. Choose at least 70% dark chocolate to avoid added sugar. Benefits of cacao intake include: enhancing your energy and mood, great source of minerals like magnesium, iron and zinc and the flavanols support heart health.
  5. Herbs and spices are powerful ingredients and have been known to strengthen the immune system, reduce inflammation, enhance recovery and aid in the fight against Alzheimer's disease and certain types of cancer. Though a small amount goes a long way, herbs and spices are an easy way to up your anti-oxidants to fight disease.
  6. Dietary supplements cannot replace healthy eating. Choose foods first, and if your physician recommends a supplement, make sure to choose one that has been third-party approved by NSF.
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