You always eat something 20 minutes after you work out, you drink water all day long and you never change your pre-race meal.
But if you think you know everything you need about sports nutrition, think again: Not even the best athletes in the world always eat right for their sport, according to U.S. Olympic Committee senior sport dietitian Shawn Hueglin. Here, Hueglin shares five surprising ways all athletes, whether recreational or elite, can eat better for training and overall performance.
1. Snack on baby food.
You know those tiny bottles of pureed vegetables and fruit in the baby food section? Turns out these are gold as snacks before or after a workout, says Hueglin. Why? These potable pots of produce are designed for infants and toddlers who need nutrient-packed snacks in small, easily digestible quantities—perfect for athletes, too. Baby food can be especially helpful for those who deal with nerves or a sensitive stomach before competition. And thankfully, companies make a wide variety of flavors, so finding one or two that you like won’t be difficult.
[More from Excelle Sports: Three Easy-to-Make Delicious Snacks from Olympic Water Polo Star Jaime Komer]
2. Lick your arm after a workout (we’re serious!) to see if you’re getting enough electrolytes.
Want to know if you’re getting enough electrolytes to balance what you lose in sweat? Taste your sweat, says Hueglin. While it may sound gross, doing so will let you know if you’re getting in enough overall sodium: If your sweat tastes super salty, you could be losing more sodium than you’re taking in. Consider supplementing with electrolyte-enhanced water or chewable electrolyte tablets.
3. Reconsider sideline snacking.
It can become habit to grab an extra protein bar or PB & J during games when you’re stuck on the sidelines, but the reality is that you may not need all those calories if you’re not playing as much, Hueglin says. Adding snacks during competition can improve focus and help maintain energy, but if you don’t need the extra food, it can interfere with ideal body composition and overall healthy habits.
4. Brush your teeth after you eat dinner.
If you’re looking to lose or maintain weight but have a problem with nighttime snacking, Hueglin suggests brushing your teeth right after dinner. Snacks won’t appeal as much when you have strong minty breath, and knowing that you have to brush your teeth again if you do grub can be a deterrent to eating junk before bed.
5. Eat more of this one food.
“You can never go wrong with veggies,” says Hueglin, adding that coming up with new ways to eat vegetables can help you get more of them during the day. For example, add shredded zucchini to morning oatmeal or roasted beets to your afternoon salad. For dinner, try substituting a loaded sweet potato or roasted head of cauliflower for your traditional pasta-based entree.
Excelle Sports lifestyle editor Kim Vandenberg is an Olympic bronze medalist, Pan American gold medalist, World Championship silver medalist and three-time U.S. national champion and French national champion in swimming. She’s also a member of Excelle’s Athletes Council.