Back to the Basics – MyPlate
Your School Year

As the school year begins, it’s time to brush up on your sports nutrition! We’re taking it back to the basics with the United States Department of Agriculture’s MyPlate. MyPlate is a visual representation of how much to eat of the different food groups, in the form of a plate. We’re going to break down each of the food groups to show why including foods from each group is necessary for your body to function and perform at optimal potential.

Fruits and Vegetables
Fruits and vegetables should cover most of your plate at lunch and dinner, and can be included in snacks throughout the day. This food group provides important vitamins and minerals that are essential to your body’s daily functions and training needs. The different colors of fruits and vegetables contain different properties called antioxidants and phytochemicals, which can help fight off disease and keep you healthy around the clock — and especially during your season. Incorporating multiple colors of fruits and vegetables at meals and snacks is a great way to make sure you are getting all the benefits of all the colors. Fruits and vegetables also have a high water content that can aid in hydration, particularly in the hot months.

The grain food group is what your body uses the most for energy throughout the day and to fuel your workouts. Grains include foods like breads, rolls, wraps, cereals, pasta, rice, crackers, oatmeal, and potatoes. Whole-grain varieties are the best options to choose, as they have more fiber and nutrients than refined grain products and give you sustained energy to keep you working hard. It’s important to have a whole-grain product (or another type of carbohydrate, like fruit) with your meal before a workout to give you that sustained energy to get you through practice.

Protein is the food group that influences muscle recovery and repair after exercise. Protein foods can be animal proteins (meat, poultry, seafood, eggs), vegetable proteins (beans, pea, nuts, seeds) and soy products. Dairy products also have some protein. Lean proteins, such as 93-percent lean ground beef, top loin, tenderloin, skinless chicken breasts, and fish, are the best options, as they are lower in saturated fat. Protein should be included at all meals and snacks, but especially post-exercise, with adequate carbohydrate, to jump start the recovery process when your muscles are most sensitive and in need of repair.

All fluid milk products, as well as foods made from milk, are found in the dairy group. Low-fat or fat-free options of milk, yogurt, and cheeses are the preferred choices when selecting dairy products. Dairy foods can be used as a part of snacks or included in meals. Dairy products have essential nutrients for bone health, such as calcium, vitamin D, and phosphorus, which help to build and maintain strong bones. Because dairy foods contain carbohydrate, protein, and some fat, they are great to include in a pre- or post-workout snack. Low-fat chocolate milk is an ideal post-workout snack, as it has carbohydrate and a little fat for energy, protein for muscle repair, and vitamins and minerals for rehydration and recovery.

The final group is oil or fat. Although it is not depicted in the MyPlate visual, fat and oils are a part of every athlete’s diet. Fat has the most calories per gram and can be used as fuel during exercise. However, fat slows down digestion more than any other nutrient, so you want to make sure to eat small amounts of fat during the day and around workouts so as to not slow you down. In your diet, you want to include more of the “good fats” such as nuts, seeds, flaxseed, peanut butter, olive oil, avocado, and omega-3 rich fish. Try to limit the “bad fats” such as fried foods, pastries, creamy sauces and dressings, full-fat sour cream, cream cheese, and mayonnaise.

Healthy Bite: Brown Bag School Lunch Ideas

Back to school doesn’t have to mean back to boring, brown-bag lunches. By using USDA’s MyPlate, you can create lots of different lunch options that meet your nutrition needs. Start thinking outside the “bag!"

You want half of your lunch to be fruits and vegetables. Fruits and vegetables provide valuable vitamins and minerals to help with many of your body’s functions. Packing a variety of colors keeps the options endless.

When packing carbohydrates for lunch, make sure to choose whole-grain options. Carbohydrates are your body’s primary source of fuel. Branch out from the typical lunch carbs of bread and chips and try a cup of brown rice, whole grain pasta, quinoa, or a whole-wheat wrap.

Protein is important for your body to repair and rebuild muscles. Lean proteins in lunches are usually luncheon meat on sandwiches, but try a grilled chicken breast cut into strips, tuna packed in water, hardboiled egg, or even beans as a source of protein.

Dairy products provide carbohydrates, protein, and some fat and are essential for helping to build and maintain strong bones. On MyPlate, dairy is shown as a side item, which can include low-fat milk, yogurt, or cheese.

Lunch #1: Whole-wheat penne pasta with spinach and mushrooms; hardboiled egg; low-fat milk; sliced watermelon
Lunch #2: Whole-grain pita stuffed with chopped grilled chicken breast, baby spinach leaves, diced tomatoes and cucumber and light dressing; 2 clementines; Greek yogurt
Lunch #3: Three-bean soup; brown rice; 2-percent string cheese; baby carrots and grape tomatoes; berries (raspberries, blueberries, blackberries)