New Year’s Resolutions: 3 Overlooked Habits Athletes Can Work on This Year

The start of a new year feels like a fresh start for many people – this is the time of year people set New Year’s Resolutions…but unfortunately, may people may be setting unrealistic resolutions or goals that they have a hard time sticking to. For example, setting a goal to “stop eating sugar” or to eat vegetables at every meal may be reasonable goals for some, but completely unrealistic for others. Instead of setting yourself up to feel defeated by too-big goals and diets that just don’t work, athletes can take advantage of the “fresh start” time of year by working on adding these basic (yet important) habits in 2018:

  1. Make hydration a priority.

This might seem like a “too-easy” goal to set, but many athletes may know that drinking water is a healthy thing to do, but don’t necessarily pay attention to their hydration status. Athletes could be walking around dehydrated before, during and after practice or competition, which can have a negative impact on performance, and can cause athletes to feel fatigued sooner. A simple way to check your hydration status is to monitor urine color – light lemonade indicates that you are better hydrated than a darker colored urine. You can also weight yourself before and after practice, a workout or a competition. A weight loss >2% body weight indicates inadequate fluid intake during that practice or competition. For every pound you lose, you want to drink 16-20 oz. of fluid over the next few hours. Another good rule of thumb is to make sure you’re sipping on water throughout the day (not just one small cup at meals), and refill that water bottle several times throughout the day. Remember – water is recommended for maintaining hydration all the time, with the exception of including sports drinks if exercise is prolonged, intense, and/or in a hot/humid environment to maintain and replace electrolytes lost in sweat.

  1. Work on your sleep hygiene

Getting enough sleep is important for athletes (and really, everyone!) because sleeping gives your body the time it needs to recharge and repair muscles. Sleep also has an impact on hunger hormones – when you don’t get enough sleep, your body’s hunger and satiety signals (ghrelin and leptin) may be impacted, which can make you feel hungrier during the day. You will also likely feel more tired, which can have a negative impact on decision-making and how much effort you can put into a workout or competition.

Sleep needs can vary among individuals, but most people should be getting between 7-10 hours of sleep per night. Know how long you have to sleep based on what time you have to wake up, and make sure you’re setting aside at least 7 hours at night to sleep.

  1. Add healthy habits to your nutrition plan

Instead of adopting diet plans that just don’t work long-term (eliminating entire food groups/carbs/sugar/low calorie diets that leave athletes feeling deprived and sacrifice performance and recovery…), let’s start the new year off right by adding healthy nutrition habits to our diet plan. A couple good examples include:

  • Eat breakfast every day – if you’re usually a breakfast skipper, start off slow by starting your day with a piece of fruit, toast with nut butter or avocado, a couple scrambled eggs, or a bowl of oatmeal or cereal
  • Pack a healthier snack – A healthy snack contains a carbohydrate (fruit, vegetable, or whole grain) plus a protein or a healthy fat. If you’re usually turning to the vending machine, grabbing a quick and easy protein bar day after day, or neglecting snacks and showing up to meals feeling extra hungry, try packing one snack a day in your bag. Mixed nuts and raisins, apple with peanut butter, grapes and string cheese, jerky and a piece of fruit, avocado or nut butter toast, Greek yogurt with berries are some good examples of a healthy snack.
  • Add a fruit or vegetable to a meal that could use some color. Adding more color to your plate is an easy goal to set because all you have to do is take inventory of your most commonly eaten meals during the week and add a vegetable or a piece of fruit if you need it. For example, let’s say you eat toast with peanut butter every morning – you could add a banana, or if you’re an egg eater in the morning, you could try scrambling your eggs with some mixed peppers and/or spinach. If you like sandwiches at lunch, maybe you add some tomato and spinach, or have a side of carrots instead of your usual bag of chips. If you eat pasta, you can add a bag of steamed freezer broccoli to your pasta to add more color and nutrients.

Setting small goals to improve your nutrition can help you stay motivated to make long-lasting changes that can impact your health and performance.

Whatever your nutrition goals are for this year, working with an expert can help you weed through all the nutrition information out there to help you set realistic goals that will help you meet your health, wellness and performance goals in the New Year! Contact Lizzie Kasparek, MS, RD, LN, Sports Dietitian at the Sanford Sports Science Institute, to set up a meeting today, by calling 605-312-7878 or e-mailing her at Elizabeth.kasparek@Sanfordhealth.org