By Page Love, MS, RDN, CSSD, LD, USPTA and Jessie Hulsey, RDN, LD
To be a high-performing tennis player, you need to fuel your body with the right foods. But if you think that means shunning processed foods, think again. Processed foods have their own set of benefits that can help you perform well. Let’s explore what processed foods are and why they can fit into a tennis player’s diet.
Food processing can transform the way food looks, tastes, and feels before it reaches our plates. Whenever you pop something in the microwave or grab a snack from your pantry, it’s likely that someone has already taken extra steps to make sure the food will be safe and nutritious when you eat it. Through various techniques such as freezing, drying and formulating ingredients together, food processing can transform basic items into delicious options we know and love.
Possible benefits to processed and convenience foods
For tennis players, nutritional demands can be particularly challenging to meet, making processed foods beneficial to have in your pantry. While fresh fruits and vegetables are a key element of any diet, processed foods have an important role as well — providing essential fuel when you need it most. Many of them provide a concentrated source of energy and protein, making them especially beneficial for your tennis play. For example, sports drinks can replenish fluids, electrolytes, and carbohydrates lost during a long workout or race. On the other hand, protein bars can provide a small amount of high-quality protein plus carbohydrate for a convenient snack before or after exercise. Processed food products also provide a wider array of options for maintaining variety in a tennis player’s diet, allowing them to consume nutrient-rich foods without sacrificing convenience. Processed foods also are often pre-cooked or precut into convenient portions for easier meal preparation. This can save time in the kitchen and make it easier to create healthy meals without having to spend hours. Combined with an overall healthy eating plan, processed food can be incredibly beneficial for when you are looking to refuel your bodies without slowing down your active life.
Can frozen meals fit into your performance meal plan? What should you look for?
Tennis players recognize the importance of nourishing their bodies with healthy, balanced meals, but with their busy work and training schedules and long travel times, preparing those meals can be difficult. Fortunately, there are now frozen meals on the market specifically designed to meet the nutrition needs of active people. These convenient meals usually contain a balance of proteins, carbohydrates, and essential vitamins and minerals, ensuring that athletes receive the nutrients they need while on the go. In addition to being nutritious, many of these meals also taste great, which is an added bonus for players who want to enjoy their food as much as possible!
Tips for finding healthy frozen meal options — consider these 5 buying tips:
Trying to find a healthy, frozen meal option can feel daunting, especially when trying to navigate the ever-growing frozen foods aisle. Fortunately, there are a few tips and tricks for ensuring your meals fit your dietary needs.
- Read the nutrition label. Aim to find meals with the following: at least 500 calories and up to 800 calories, less than 20 grams of fat, 5 or more grams of fiber, and 15 -20 grams or more of protein.
- Reach for meals with a combination of lean protein, vegetables, and whole grain item or starchy vegetable.
- Meals that contain a complex carbohydrate like rice, potatoes pasta, and also higher in fiber will help to keep you fueled and satisfied.
- To increase protein, consider adding ½ cup of beans or a serving of nuts or a serving of cottage cheese or yogurt to the side of your meals.
- Most frozen dinners are lower in vegetable bulk, so try adding a side salad or extra steamed vegetable side.
Common examples of processed foods include:
- Canned and frozen fruits and vegetables.
- Packaged foods labeled “natural” or “organic,” such as cereals, fresh meat and poultry, and jarred foods.
- Foods with health and nutrition claims on the label, such as “may reduce risk of heart disease,” “low in fat” or “high in calcium.”
- Foods fortified with nutrients such as fiber, vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids.
- Foods prepared in quick-service restaurants, cafeterias and food courts, sports arenas, coffee shops and other locations.
Page Love is an avid ALTA participant and sport dietitian/nutrition advisor for the WTA and ATP professional tours. She has served on the USTA sport science committee for 25 years and has a private practice in Sandy Springs. You can reach her at nutrifitga.com. Jessie Hulsey is an Atlanta based consultant registered dietitian, specializing in both behavioral and long-term care nutrition and is a consultant to Nutrifit. She also consults with brands to provide nutrition content, recipe development, and food photography.