Habit Changes for Picky-Eater Athletes

We are inherently influenced by what something looks like that we are about to eat. It's in our DNA, as a visual cue was what protected us from eating something poisonous while we were hunters and gatherers. Second cue? Taste and texture. I know this well as I was an extremely picky eater as a child, and my fight or flight radars went off often with new foods. Texture was big for me and I was extremely resistant to trying anything new. I was encouraged to not give up and am proud to say that today, I will try anything once (well almost anything). Your body needs fuel to go, and recognizing that your choices make a difference can help you make changes for the better as an athlete, and for the rest of your life as a healthy human!

1. Lay off the sugar, salt, and processed foods

As you get older and are not told what to eat by your parents, your own choices can become a detriment to your own health. Sugary, salty snack foods are easy to access and cheap to buy, and they become an easy substitute for hunger pangs. It can be convenient to think that something that fills you up now, will be most effective for your team practice later in the day. Remember that being full does not mean being fueled! 

The more you can reach for whole foods, the more you will realize that they are more effective in keeping you full. The fullness you receive from a bag of chips can never replace the fullness that you receive from brown rice, sweet potatoes, or whole wheat breads. Your body processes whole foods more efficiently, making the energy you spend working out more efficient. Recognize where you become tempted to buy the snacks, and make sure to prepare for that moment. Pack a higher protein whole food snack like peanut butter, or slow digesting carb like whole wheat bread (or both!) as they will fuel you and keep you full throughout your workout. 

2. Limit Sauces and Ketchup 

Most of the picky eaters I know like to mask the tastes of foods through sauces and especially ketchup. These are adding extra sugar to your nutrition and are not going to help you develop the necessary habits which help you try new foods. Instead, use seasonings and herbs to flavor your food. You will never salt your broccoli to the same level as process foods contain salt for preservation, so flavor away!

3. Don't skip breakfast 

Your body functions best when it knows there is fuel coming. By skipping on breakfast, you are telling your body to go into starvation mode and hold on to or store whatever is the next meal you eat. Picky eaters will often skip on breakfast because they don't like many breakfast options or it seems too hard to prepare something healthy. Work on adding 1 new breakfast option to your routine a month. I suggest plain quick oatmeal that you add your own fruit, honey, or peanut butter to.  Stick to it and record your progress. Look up recipes that vary your options and don't give up, consistency is key! Try overnight oats, or cold oats in the fridge that soften with yogurt. 

4. Three bites 

Always try 3 bites of something new. It's been researched that it can take 6-10 tries of something new to even get the ball rolling! If you are adding a new fruit or vegetable to your menu, try incorporating it in a few different ways over a week or more. It could very well be the way it's prepared that changes how much you like something. Steaming, pan searing, or roasting vegetables have very different outcomes in taste and texture. Just because you don't like one form, it doesn't mean you wont like another! If you keep an open and adventurous mind while you explore something new, you will take a lot of the pressure off forcing yourself to like something! 

5. Not drinking the right fluids

In order to drink the right fluids we must first assume that you are consuming enough fluids. You  are, right? Drink a glass of water as soon as wake up each morning and keep a water bottle with you through out the day to monitor how much you take in. Dehydration is very common among adolescents and among athletes. The strategy becomes to try and catch up on what was missed while by drinking a ton at practice. By that point, it is already too late and your workout only continues to dehydrate your body. 

Stick to water as often as possible. I can't tell you how many picky eaters have told me they don't like water! Time move past this mentality! If you are really struggling drinking the amount of fluids that help keep your pee out of the bright yellow zone (brown = totally dehydrated, clear = hydrated!), choose sports drinks without high fructose corn syrup. It's often the easier route to choose only what comes out of the closest vending machine, usually Gatorade or Powerade. Consuming rehydration drinks daily means you need to make smart choices about what you put in your body. Ingredients matter! I recommend Nuun Hydration tablets because they are convenient and are made of the good stuff!