How Processed Foods Impact Athletes

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You don’t need to be an athlete or even a very health-conscious person to understand that processed foods aren’t good for you. They’re often laden with preservatives, ingredients that are impossible to pronounce, and compounds and chemicals you’d rather not think about.

From an athletic perspective, though, processed foods can do more than damage your waistline. They can have a greater impact on your overall health, and make it harder for you to reach your goals.

More importantly, consuming processed foods regularly could have negative long-term effects on your well-being.

So, how much is too much? Is it okay to have a Twinkie once in a while?

Let’s cover the “process” behind these foods, how they can impact you now and in the future, and what you should be doing to fuel your body the right way.

What Are Processed Foods?

Most of us have a few basic ideas that come to mind when we think of processed foods. But, many of those ideas are the “extreme” versions of processing. Some of the most highly-processed foods include

  • Deli meats
  • Candy
  • Fast food
  • Bakery products
  • Frozen entrees
  • Sugary drinks

Processed foods are made by altering something in their natural state. That usually happens with the addition of sugar, salt, or other preservatives. Eating too much sugar can impact your health, contributing to issues like obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. Many manufacturers do a good job of disguising the sugar in their products by using different names. Ingredients like sucrose, treacle, carob syrup, and high fructose corn syrup are all different terms for sugar.

However, food can also be processed by canning, freezing, or pasteurizing. So, it’s important to know that not all processed foods – by definition – are bad for you. Things like frozen vegetables can be great for adding bulk and nutrition to your meals. Most of these veggies are harvested when ripe and flash-frozen to lock in essential nutrients. Vacuum-sealed meats can also be good in moderation, like lean turkey breast or chicken. Manufacturers process these foods by sealing them tightly so they last longer, but it doesn’t change the nutrition content.

Is It Okay to Eat Processed Foods?

Everyone’s nutritional needs are different. Your diet plan should be based on your overall health and fitness goals. But, if you’ve looked at some of the fittest names in the world and have had the chance to see their diets, you’ll likely notice some trends. Take a look at Conor McGregor’s typical diet plan when he’s in training. He sticks to things like lean meats, eggs, sweet potatoes, and coconut water.

However, the man is only human. His cheat meals often consist of cakes, coffee, and beer. He’s not the only professional athlete to indulge, either. Even shredded actors like Dwayne Johnson have become known for their legendary cheat meals. Johnson’s includes plenty of processed foods, like

  • Ice cream
  • Fast food
  • Deli subs
  • Cookies and brownies

Is it okay to eat processed foods once in a while? In most cases, yes. Having a “cheat day” now and then can actually be beneficial. It will keep you from feeling deprived and falling away from a healthy diet plan, and many processed foods are comforting. One meal or one day of “bad” eating isn’t going to do any harm to your training regimen or your overall health. It’s doing it every day that’s the problem.

How to Fuel Your Body

Again, everyone’s diet is different. Your nutritional needs are based on things like your metabolism, how much you’re working out, and your fitness goals. If you want to fuel your body the right way, focus on eating lean proteins, complex carbohydrates, and as many fruits and vegetables as you can handle.

Eating whole foods in their most natural state will almost always optimize your performance. But, if you’re not an avid cook, you’re short on time, or you just don’t have access to many whole ingredients, there’s no reason you can’t fuel your body properly and reach your fitness goals.

When you start to think of all food as fuel, you’ll change your perspective on dieting. Think about how a pint of ice cream might “fuel” your body when compared to a grilled chicken breast. One is high-octane, while the other is like putting sludge in your gas tank. Does that mean you shouldn’t ever have ice cream? Absolutely not. After a pint, you can bounce back the next day and “clean” your tank by eating whole and healthy again.

Plus, remember that processed doesn’t necessarily mean bad. When you take the time to do your research on how foods are processed, you’ll quickly learn how to get the most nutrition out of convenient ingredients. In many cases, canned, vacuum-sealed, and flash-frozen foods are perfectly acceptable and can make it easier to stick to your diet, no matter your nutrition or fitness goals.


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