When we think about nutrition and athletic performance, breaking down each nutrient would make you crazy. They are ALL important, each for their own reason and because so many work together to provide the amazing benefits we take for granted.
In the United States, we have an abundant food supply and should have no problem getting enough fruits and veggies. One of the biggest issues with nutrition messaging is that it’s constantly changing and that can be not only confusing, but frustrating. The current Dietary Guidelines for Americans states that we all should be getting 2 cups of fruit and 2.5 cups of vegetables each day. It once was the recommendation to have 5-9 servings each day for fruits and vegetables combined, but no one knew what a serving was, so it was changed to cups.
What’s the easiest way to take all of these nutrition messaging? Make half of your meals fruits and veggies. Done.
With all the changes and with all the focus on healthy eating that we see in the media and on social media, would you believe that only 8.5% of high school students meet the recommendations for fruit intake and only 2% for vegetable intake. What? This was concluded from a survey done in 33 states across the U.S and published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics in 2017.
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This is a shocking number, but even more shocking is the knowledge that some of these students are athletes and I can’t help but think of what they are missing out on. Today, I’m going to focus on vitamin C, although potassium, folate, and fiber are nutrients worth noting as well.
Vitamin C is the fourth leading nutrient deficiency in the United States. This fact was unbelievable to me. With a vitamin that is so readily available, how in the name of everything are we so deficient? The answer is painfully simple – poor dietary habits. Those teens that aren’t meeting the recommendations – that’s the main culprit.
Most people link vitamin C with immunity and that’s good. Those who are deficient in vitamin C run the risk of getting sick more often and lack the ability to fight off infections. That’s pretty important right there if you are an athlete, or if you have a teen athlete who has some pretty important competitions coming up.
Vitamin C is important in protein metabolism and helps repair tissues. That means it can help soothe those sore muscles and help repair any wounds…it’s also great for your skin (this is a big one for teens!) In addition, it is a very powerful antioxidant and helps to reduce inflammation in the body. So, what does this mean for you? This means that all of that work you put your body through, or your child goes through, does a certain amount of damage. Healing takes good nutrition and sufficient vitamin C.
Does this mean you should just start mega-dosing because you think more is better? Nope. In fact, larger doses won’t do you any good. You see, vitamin C is water soluble, which means as soon as your body gets enough, you’ll just lose it in urine. Don’t pay for vitamin C filled urine.
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Get your vitamin C from food and here’s how: Aim for 75 mg/day if you’re just moderately active, but prolonged and strenuous exercise can increase these needs, so feel free to eat more vitamin C rich foods.
*cooking can decrease vitamin C in foods
1/2 cup red bell pepper – 95 mg
1 medium orange – 70 mg
1 kiwi – 64 mg
1/2 cup strawberries – 49 mg
1/2 cup cooked Brussels sprouts – 48 mg
1 medium baked potato – 17 mg
1/2 cup cooked spinach – 9 mg
Bottom Line: Make sure you’re getting enough vitamin C to keep yourself healthy enough for physical activity. If you have a teen athlete, have a conversation about the link between nutrition and athletic performance and the importance of a healthy diet for athletes.